This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday” since the Gospel reading is always about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about giving His sheep eternal life and promises that they shall never perish.
We see this image of Jesus as shepherd connected to the image of Jesus as the Lamb in the second reading this Sunday from the Book of Revelation. In his vision of heaven, Saint John writes about a great multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb. He writes that the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Jesus is the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Victim and the Priest. We are reminded of this at every Mass. He is the Lamb of God who offered Himself in sacrifice for us. He is the Shepherd who leads us, His sheep, to springs of life-giving water.
Saint John’s vision in chapter 7 of the book of Revelation shows us a great multitude of people worshipping God. They are wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. White is the color of victory and resurrection. That is why we clothe the newly baptized with a white garment. Palm branches are also symbols of victory.
One of the elders worshipping God in this vision explained to Saint John who these people are wearing the white robes and holding palm branches: These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. He is referring to the martyrs and to all faithful Christians who have endured the trials and sufferings of life in union with Jesus. By the grace of Christ, they have fought the good fight and emerged victorious.
The words about washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb seem odd. How can clothes be made white by washing them in blood? Clearly, this is referring to the blood of Christ that cleanses us from the dirt of sin. We wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb by accepting the Gospel, believing in Jesus, and being baptized. We survive the time of great distress by persevering in our faith, repenting often, and living the grace of our Baptism.
It is good to remember on Good Shepherd Sunday that the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain, the Lamb-Shepherd that leads us to springs of life-giving water. He leads us to the sources of life, including Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. And we can only enter heaven thanks to the Blood of the Lamb, the Precious Blood of Christ. He washes us in His Blood. This is our hope, the hope of Christ’s Blood!
Easter is a season of hope and joy. We can live in hope and joy because of the Resurrection of Jesus, because the Lamb that was slain stands on God’s throne in heaven. We live in hope and peaceful joy that we will one day join the multitude of those wearing white robes and holding palm branches and that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
When we read the book of Revelation, we are reminded of things in the Catholic liturgy. The Church, especially in her liturgy, is a sign of the heavenly gathering. Saint John’s vision of heaven is a great liturgy, the center of which is Christ the Lamb, seated on a throne, worshipped by an assembly who sing, offer incense, and pray. Our liturgy is really an anticipation of the heavenly liturgy. In fact, at every liturgy, the saints and angels in heaven worship with us.
At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, we sing the Sanctus, the words sung by the heavenly host in Revelation, chapter 4: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. Saint John sees a throne before which burned seven flaming torches. At every Mass that the bishop celebrates, there are supposed to be seven candles on the altar. Among the heavenly citizens are angels, martyrs, saints, and a woman clothed with the sun. In our churches, we have images and statues representing the company of the saints and, of course, the Queen of All Saints, the woman clothed with the sun, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Liturgical signs are heavenly signs.
Whenever we celebrate the sacraments, we are participating in the eternal liturgy. We receive grace, the water of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And often at our liturgies, the congregation, like the assembly in heaven, includes people of various races, languages, and peoples.
The Eucharist is “an anticipation of the heavenly glory” (CCC 1402) and unites us even now to the Church in heaven (CCC 1419). The Lord is even now in our midst, though His presence is veiled under the forms of bread and wine. After the Our Father, the priest prays that the Lord will grant us peace in our days, keep us safe from distress “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” At every Mass, we look forward to sharing in Christ’s glory when every tear will be wiped away. Most importantly, at every Mass, we receive the medicine of immortality, Jesus, the bread of life. We are not worthy to receive Him, but we ask that He only say the word so our soul may be healed. We pray that His Body and Blood will keep us safe for eternal life.
The Holy Eucharist is the pledge of the glory to come. May the Good Shepherd lead us to the life-giving water and to the glory of heaven! May our robes be washed and made white in His Blood, the Blood of the Lamb!
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