I was struck last week by two encounters I had with sheep farmers.
The first was a hill farmer in one of the more remote corners of this wonderful Diocese of Newcastle. I was struck by how hard life can be for our farmers, but I was also struck by an image of great tenderness. A lamb had been born two weeks premature and was being reared by hand by the farmer in a cardboard box in her sitting room.
The second was a lovely story in the news.
A farmer in Suffolk was checking his flock and found a sheep lying on top of its lamb. The lamb had stopped breathing, and so the farmer began to give it the kiss of life. After five cycles of kiss of life and heart massage, the lamb began to breathe again. The farmer said it was an ‘extraordinary experience.’ Now, says the farmer, ‘the lamb’s running round the yard like nothing happened to him.’
Two stories of two good shepherds.
Those seem like appropriate stories for Easter – with its themes of love, death and new life. On Good Friday, Jesus knows the reality of pain and suffering. He is tortured by his enemies, and deserted by most of his friends. And then there are those profound words from the cross that we hear in the Gospels, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus felt himself to be forsaken by God.
And strangely enough, for me, there’s hope even in that. Because it means that there is no human situation, even feeling God-forsaken, where Jesus has not been before us. In ministry, when I’ve been walking alongside people in the most awful situations, that experience of Jesus has been important to me. Jesus alongside us in the darkness.
But of course that’s not the end of the story. We come to the great surprise – the strangeness and amazing joy of the Resurrection. The disciples went to the tomb on Easter morning and find that the dead Jesus is not there. Instead, they find an empty tomb and gradually realise the enormity of what has happened – that the Lord is risen.
We might be tempted to think that the Easter story is like that story of the lamb being given the kiss of life. But of course it’s not quite that. The risen Jesus is not simply brought back to life. The new life he enters is through and beyond death – it is vibrant, new life.
In a sense, we are the ones given the kiss of life at Easter – God, who is our Good Shepherd, breathes new life into us, so that we can live, really live, in the light and joy of the risen Christ.
And so, may the light and joy of Christ be yours this day and always.
The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman