"I know them, and they follow me. I gave them eternal life."
I heard this story on National Public Radio recently. Jeff Smith, "Frugal Gourmet," was traveling through Washington state and was in a remote area when he came across a flock of sheep crossing the road. He stopped his car to wait and soon the shepherd of the flock came by on horseback.
Jeff Smith is an ordained minister and had a question for the shepherd. He asked: "What do you think when you hear the expression `Lamb of God?'"
The answer was more than he could have expected.
The old shepherd told this story. He began: Springtime is a tough time for sheep and shepherds. It is lambing time. It is a time of tragedy. When many ewes are giving birth, the shepherd must often deal with problems. Sometimes a lamb dies at birth, sometime a ewe dies giving birth.
And here is the scene. Over here is a mother sheep who has lost her baby at birth. Over there is a lamb that has lost his mother in the process of being given life. But sheep are difficult animals. A sheep will not take a lamb that is not its own. And so we have the case of a mother sheep full of the milk that will not nourish her baby and no baby to feed. And we have a lamb, hungry for life-giving nourishment and no milk to drink. Soon the motherless baby will starve to death.
It is a scene of abundance and scarcity all at once.
And this is what the good shepherd must do. Now this is going to be a bit graphic but it is the truth. To reconcile this moment of tragedy, the shepherd takes the lamb that has died and slits its throat. Then the good shepherd washed the living lamb in the blood who died. Out of death will come life. The lamb who died gives life to the lamb that is motherless. Now the mother sheep will accept this new baby, this baby washed in the blood of her own.
The shepherd then said, "That is what I know about about the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd as well."
For us who are washed in the blood of the lamb and who are part of the flock of the Good Shepherd, that is all we need to know. We, who were separated from God by sin and death, have now been given new life. The Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God are one and the same - the one who saves, Jesus the Christ.
Today, we will renew our Baptismal Covenant on page 304 and 305 (BCP). These are beliefs and promises we make as the flock of the Good Shepherd. We know them well. And I will tell you what I believe about the sacrament of baptism. Each time we baptize, we baptize the whole world. The lamb of God, Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection washed the whole world in his blood. He gave the whole of humanity LIFE.
We, the church, remember that truth each time we gather for worship. Each time we come together, we remember: We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We have been immersed into the healing waters of baptism. Our job at worship is to remember this gift and to give thanks. Our job as the church is to proclaim to the world (in which we live): "Jesus gives life to all humanity." Our job in life is to seek and serve the Good Shepherd in all persons.