I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and am known by my own. How do we know our Lord? There are two ways we know and recognize our Lord Jesus. We know him by his voice – the word he speaks. And we know him in the breaking of the bread – His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
We know him by his voice. The sheep listen to the voice of the Shepherd. They do not listen to another voice. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has laid down his life for us on the cross. He has taken up that life again in the resurrection. And today’s Gospel reading is given to us as a great comfort. The people of God hear his voice through the ministers he sends. And they compare what is said to the Holy Scriptures. Those ministers who speak the words of the Good Shepherd are true shepherds. Those who speak different words are not true shepherds, but hirelings and belly servers. This is why it is important for the people of God to know the Scriptures – so they can recognize and distinguish between true shepherds and hirelings. The best way to learn the scriptures is through the Small Catechism. It is a handbook to the Bible. That is why we teach it to the children, and continue studying it all our lives.
The voice of the Shepherd is given to us in the Holy Scriptures. We have the promise of eternal life in him. It begins with our first parents – the promise given to them of a Savior from their sin. That promise follows through the entire history of Israel, as Abraham is called out of his city and shown the promised land, as Jacob, later named Israel, sees the promise fulfilled in his family – twelve sons for the twelve tribes. Israel is made a great nation in Egypt, and then brought out from slavery into the promised land. The nation is established, and the idolatrous Canaanites driven out. David is named king and then Solomon after him; the temple is built, and sacrifices offered on the altar to the One True God. Over the years the prophets predict his birth, his suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension. Finally in the fullness of time, the King himself comes – born of a woman born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. Jesus is the Savior of the World, the Good Shepherd. We in His Holy Christian Church are His sheep. Through the still waters of Holy Baptism we are made His. Through the word of Law and Gospel preached in His Church we are brought back when we stray from him.
The word pastor means shepherd. Jesus is the Good pastor – the good shepherd. And he sends shepherds – pastors – who will speak his word to the world, who will preach His word from the Holy Scriptures. Who will Baptize the little ones who are brought for a blessing from Jesus, who will feed the faithful with His body and blood, who will stand and proclaim the resurrection even to those sheep who go through the valley of the shadow of death. The true shepherd gives us strength to defy death, to stare down the grave. And those who serve faithfully as shepherds under the Good Shepherd do not bring their own word and they own voice. They speak with the voice of Jesus – Bringing Christ to the people through the preaching and sacraments. That is how we know our Lord. As we said in the Gradual a few moments ago – The Lord was known to them in the breaking of the bread. This is taken from Luke’s resurrection account – where the disciples are on their way to Emmaus. They are upset because of all that has happened – Jesus was betrayed and crucified. They’ve heard the report of the women that Jesus has been raised, but they have not seen him. While they walk Jesus opens up the scriptures to them. He explains that all the things that happened had to happen in that way. He shows how the scriptures predicted it. Their hearts burn as he explains, but they still do not recognize him. When they finally arrive at Emmaus, he comes into the house with them, takes bread, gives thanks and breaks is – and that is when their eyes are opened and they know it is Jesus. Think about this. It isn’t seeing Jesus in person that brings us to faith. They knew Jesus. They had seen him in the past. But now they walked with him for miles, listening to him teach, and still didn’t recognize Him because the Spirit had not opened their eyes to see. Only at the end, when he breaks the bread and gives thanks do they know who it is. The Lord was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
So also for us today. The Holy Spirit opens our hearts to hear his word proclaimed in the Divine Service. He opens our eyes to see him in the body and blood, as he comes to us in the Holy Supper to bring us forgiveness life and salvation. This brings us back to that famous Psalm – The Lord is my Shepherd – Jesus is the one who brings us to green pastures and leads us to still waters – the same Good Shepherd gives his body and blood into death for us –He prepares a table before us, our cup runs over with the grace and mercy of God.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “Lord if it is possible let this cup pass from me. Yet not what I will but what you will.” Jesus had to drink the cup of suffering for you. Now, the cup of suffering is fully drained. The cup that Jesus prepares for you is the cup of joy and gladness. The cup of the new wine in the new kingdom – His Body and blood given and shed for you: the food of eternity.
And when we take eat and take drink as he has commanded, we join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven as we sing, as we feast on the true lamb. Jesus is our food. The food that gives us enough strength even to die. That is the sort of food he provides. And it is this food – the body and blood of Jesus – by which we recognize him in his church. He promises that it is his body, it is his blood. We do not question or doubt that word. The bread is taken, we give thanks and his words are spoken over them, and then we are fed not with bread, but with his body. The word is spoken and our thirst is quenched not with wine, but with His blood.
The disciples knew it was Jesus in the breaking of the bread. The Lord’s Supper has been the defining moment of the church for 2,000 years and it still is. We can pray in our homes – Jesus commands us to. We can fast and give alms. But the feast of the New Testament – that is reserved for the coming together of God’s people in the church. It is how we see and recognize and are given our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls.
And in this time when many are kept away from the Holy Supper, we cling ever closer to it. Those who can not come here to be fed with the Lord’s Supper must be fed only with every word that proceeds from the mouth of God: Just like our Lord Jesus was in the desert when he was tempted by Satan. They are hungry and thirsty for the righteousness given here. And we pray that soon they will be able to return and to receive this blessing with us. Just as we pray that our Lord will return with a trumpet, on his throne surrounded by the angelic hosts, and then this foretaste will be turned into the feast in all its fullness. Our Lord Jesus prepares a table for us, and our cup runs over. Let us not despise this gift, but come in humility and reverence to receive this pledge, this promise of the goodness and mercy of our Lord until he returns. In that day we will hear the voice of Jesus in person, we will be fed from his hand. And we will eat the wedding feast of the lamb in His kingdom which has no end.