As a shepherd of two flocks who need my care, I try to pay special attention to the timing of those needs.
I know my Whidbey Island sheep will need me to be more available during lambing. If a ewe gets into trouble I want to be able to respond as soon as possible.
I know that my Seattle congregation will need me to be more available on Sundays, when we all gather and connect. Tired folks will be able to renew and re-center themselves. People who have been carrying their cares all week long will have a chance to lay some burdens down. We all will sing and pray together, and be reminded of what matters most in our lives.
On Easter Sunday especially, one of our largest gathering days of the year, I know that the needs of my congregation will be my priority. That is why through the years I have been particularly careful for my lambing season to be either before or after Easter. I get to decide that because I decide when the ewes are with the ram. The lambs will come five months later. And I can count to five. Usually.
This year, Easter came late. We were already three weeks into April, and three weeks into lambing on my farm when the sun rose on Easter morning. And I still had one ewe who had not yet lambed. In spite of my work to avoid it, lambing season and Easter had come together. It was the first time this had happened in my 18 years of serving two flocks.
On Sundays I get up at 5 a.m. so I can feed my sheep and finish my chores in time to catch the 6:30 ferry into Seattle. That gives me plenty of time once I arrive at the church to settle into the morning, go over the worship bulletin, review my sermon, pray with my colleagues, and even have breakfast before our 10:00 service.
On Easter, however, more people come to church, and our congregation holds two services. The first one begins at 9:00, an hour earlier than usual. Even with the best timing I will still have to hunt for a parking place. My relaxed preparation will be cut short. Also, on most Sundays I can miss the 6:30 ferry and catch the one that comes an hour later. I will still have an hour and a half to prepare for worship. But on Easter Sunday, I had better be on the 6:30 boat. No church needs the pastor to be circling through the University District looking for parking while the organist and orchestra are waiting to begin.
All of this explains why I was up and already in the barn before the sun on Easter morning. I was checking to see if there was a new lamb out there, or a ewe who needed me. As the sleepy sheep gazed up at me, I was relieved to see that all was well. There were no new lambs. The last pregnant ewe was relaxed and seemed comfortable.
So I did my morning chores and turned everyone out into the pasture. My friend Meighan who is building a house up on the island and spending weekends on the farm as she does so, helped. Meighan is a preacher too, and has her own Seattle congregation to think about. Both of us were a bit anxious about the tight schedule. But all of the animals cooperated. The new lambs who sometimes get lost between barn and field followed their mothers right through the gate this time. Even my guardian dog Giaco who sometimes decides to do one more walk-about security check before coming into the yard for the day seemed to know that I needed him to skip that this morning.
As I changed into my Easter clothes and gathered my things I noted that I was actually running a little bit early. We would catch the ferry with no problem.
We jumped in the car and headed down the driveway, and I looked out over the field for one last check on the flock. There was the pregnant ewe, still relaxed and grazing contentedly. There were the lambs playing and jumping as new lambs do. All was well.
And then I saw her. One of the ewes has gotten herself stuck, upside down, in the feeder. Her feet were flailing a bit at the hay above her, but mostly she was just lying there, as if she was resigned to her fate.
I actually thought for a moment about leaving her there. “I can’t miss this boat” I said to myself. “I’ll call my friend Lori to come get her,” I reasoned.
But those thoughts only lasted a moment. I knew what I had to do. That was how it happened that dressed in my Easter Sunday best I was running into the field. Then I was grabbing a ewe by her filthy back legs and pulling with all my strength.
Again, as if she knew it was Easter and this was her one chance, the ewe relaxed instead of fighting me. What could have been a fifteen minute struggle took only a minute. The ewe tipped out of the feeder on her back and then rolled over and stood up. Trying to look as dignified as possible under the circumstances, she walked away as her lamb ran up as if to say “What happened mom?”
I hurried back to the car and we raced to the ferry. We made it with a good minute or two to spare. I got myself as cleaned up as possible, and was grateful that at my church the preacher wears a robe.
Easter Sunday at my church was beautiful, with the choir singing a new anthem that is now one of my favorite. We all celebrated resurrection.
Later that afternoon, as I was driving down to Oregon to have some family Easter time with my sister, my friend Lori called. She was watching the farm for me while I was away.
“All is well here,“ she said, and I remembered the upside down ewe from the morning. “And is there a new lamb in the field?” she added.
That last ewe had indeed had her baby on Easter Sunday, with no need for assistance from the shepherd. It was a big strong ram lamb, so healthy that Lori wasn’t sure if he was a newborn, or a week old.
So spring comes. New life comes. Upside down, unexpected, not according to our timing, sometimes because we helped and sometimes with no need of our assistance, life shows up all around us.
Christ is risen indeed.