A valuable insight to our Pastoral Hymn
On Advent Sunday 2022, we enter the second year of our Diocesan Vision and so begin a new focus on being ‘Transformed by Christ: Pastoral’. This hymn has been written for the use of churches across our diocese as they explore what it means to be transformed by Christ in the ways we reach out and care for each other, near and far.
It is rooted in the last chapter of St John’s Gospel where we find the risen Jesus barbecuing fish for his disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee. The hymn begins with ‘the charcoal fire’ to remind us (as John wanted to remind us) of the last time we encountered a charcoal fire in his gospel (18.15-27). On that occasion, just after Jesus’ arrest, a charcoal fire had been lit in the courtyard of the High Priest because the night was cold. While Jesus was being questioned, John describes how Peter warmed himself at this fire and how – not once, not twice but three times – he denied knowing Jesus.
By lighting another charcoal fire by Lake Galilee, the risen Jesus takes Peter back to that fateful night and, by asking him three times if he loves him, tenderly gives him the chance to redeem himself. The hymn deliberately echoes both sets of threefold questions with several trios of words such as ‘my loyalty, my life, my all’ and ‘the lost, the least, the lonely’.
The relationship between loving Jesus and loving our neighbour couldn’t be clearer in the closing chapter of John’s gospel. Using the metaphor of the shepherd (the Latin word for which is ‘pastor’), Jesus makes it clear that, if Peter loves the Shepherd, he will pastor the Shepherd’s flock.
In the hymn’s second verse, the focus shifts from Peter to us. Like him, we too need to be transformed by Christ. We too are called to shepherd Christ’s sheep and lambs. And in the way we respond to the vulnerable and needy, we too, like Peter, are called to mirror the example of the Good Shepherd himself.
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