Yesterday, for example, when we were praying, one wanted to pray for pigs – that they would provide us with even more bacon, sausages and pork pies. The other prayed that Jose Mourinho wouldn’t leave Chelsea FC. (You didn’t need to know that. I’m just putting our life in its normal context.)
Sometimes what they say, however, catches me off guard. This morning, our youngest approached me with a plastic Easter egg in his hand filled with some fluff that he’d found somewhere. (I know – it doesn’t look good that there are still plastic eggs around the house nearly a month after Easter, not to mention the presence of mysterious fluff.)
‘Mum, we could keep this egg and use it next year to remind ourselves about the Lamb of God’, he said, tenderly touching the fluff. It clearly meant something to him.
I’ve spent the rest of the day wondering about what that meant to him and what he understands by the phrase ‘lamb of God’.
I’ve only recently realised how many different ways the sheep/shepherd imagery is used in the Bible. The sheepfold is used as an image of safety but is also a place the sheep need to leave in order to find nice grass. Jesus is compared to the gate of the sheep pen but also to a devoted shepherd. The sheep pen might be in a village and shared between different sheep owners to protect the sheep from thieves or it might be on a hillside where the biggest threat is wolves. When you put it all together, it doesn’t really work as a neat metaphor- but more of a multi-faceted attempt to use language to describe the relationship between God and us.
The single image that most caught my imagination was that of a shepherd calling out sheep by name. (This is from a shared pen of different flocks.) Imagine knowing your sheep well enough to give them names. Imagine the sheep knowing their names and coming when you call them. The shepherd knows the sheep, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd.
That ‘knowing’ reminded me of something I heard recently about prayer. Beginning to pray, the person said, is like the communication between a baby and a parent. No actual words are required, but it is two-way. There is a deep, mysterious connection, rooted in love.
God was made vulnerable as a baby, as a lamb. But God also longs to look into our eyes and coo with affirmation, like a parent. This is a relationship full of mystery.