man standing in front of group of lamb
Photo credit: Biegun Wschodni

Belonging to the Good Shepherd:
The Fourth Sunday of Easter

First reading: Acts 4:8-12

Psalm: 118 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

Second reading: 1 John 3:1-12

Gospel: John 10:11-18

It is sometimes said that Catholics are an “Easter people.” This is not because some Catholics only attend Mass on Easter Sunday, but rather it points to importance of the resurrection, as indicated by the liturgical season. Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the entire year, extended in celebration as an octave of solemnities (8 days of the highest ranking Church feast) and a season that includes the Ascension (Jesus’s ascending into heaven) and ends with Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit).

Lent certainly can feel long and of dire importance, and Holy Week has its own distinct and crucial traditions, but it is Easter – the resurrection – that ultimately is the key to the paschal mystery. As we celebrate this Fourth Sunday of Easter, however, most Catholics have moved on from the lilies, chocolate, and Alleluias. We have settled back into our usual life of work, family, and persevering through a pandemic.

However, we can look to this week’s readings for ideas on what it means to continue our celebration of Easter. The Fourth Sunday of Lent is a “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The gospel reading from John contains Jesus naming himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Part of being an Easter people is recognizing that we belong to such a good shepherd.

If the idea of being sheep isn’t appealing, we can temper this thought by looking to our other readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter: we are called “the children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). Both images imply trust, dependence, and protection, though the idea of being children of God also speaks of potential, being called to something greater. There is an element of Easter surprise here. The lamb of God is also the shepherd; the sheep are the children of God; and the stone rejected by the builders turns out to be the cornerstone. 

In a contemporary situation where isolation and loneliness have grown, we often lack of a sense of belonging, both to the good shepherd and to each other – the flock. When we encounter and observe injustices in our world, we can become so upset that we forget we are children of God.

And yet, the Easter season reminds us that we belong to that one who was rejected and has become the cornerstone. Therefore we seek to move beyond despair – reaching out to those touched by loneliness and pursuing what is right and just, taking courage in our Easter knowledge that resurrection has followed the cross.