Across the Pastor’s Desk: The Good Shepherd’s promise

Published 8:00 pm Friday, April 23, 2021

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

The fourth Sunday of Easter is “Good Shepherd Sunday” in congregations which follow the common lectionary. Attendees will hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep and my sheep know me … and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14 NEB).

Kenneth Jensen

It has been said that two places are misnamed “home.” One is a funeral home; the other, a nursing home. For 15 years I served as chaplain in the long-term care facility of Good Shepherd Lutheran Community in Blair, Nebraska. 

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Many individuals fear becoming a resident in a nursing home. Yet, one resident said to me, “No matter where you find yourself, you can make any place your home.  Home is more than a street address. Home is where your friends are and I have many friends here.”

The highlight of my week was Friday morning when I conducted worship on the Alzheimer’s unit. I sought to stir up memories from an earlier life that existed in the recesses of their minds. For example, I would bring a loaf of freshly baked bread when sharing a message on “Jesus, the Bread of Life.” The aroma enabled some to recall coming home from country school. Mother would set before them a warm slice of bread from the oven, drenched in butter and honey. It was an expression of a mother’s love — a love God has for us.

Each week we recited the 23rd Psalm, Apostle’s Creed, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and sang familiar hymns from their youth.  Amazingly, almost everyone participated at one point or another. One husband was thrilled to hear his wife had mumbled words from the Lord’s Prayer. She hadn’t spoken in months.

What I learned those Friday mornings was that the very last memories to fade are those rooted in music and one’s religious upbringing. How fortunate they were to have memorized hymns in their youth as well as Bible passages, the Creed and Lord’s Prayer. As light in their room of memories flickered and grew dim, they still sensed Christ the Good Shepherd beside them.

I called upon a parishioner who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous day. That night she had a dream.  She stood at the edge of a beautiful garden.  The fragrance of flowers filled the air. An angel appeared and said, “Do not be afraid for the Lord will bring you into his garden.” When she awoke the next morning, she felt a peace she had never experienced before.

Shortly thereafter, her physician brought positive news. A follow-up diagnostic test revealed she had no cancer. She would completely recover.

“I was almost disappointed,” she said. “I was beginning to look forward to life in God’s garden. Now, I have to wait. But this I know: I will never fear death again.”

The words of the Psalmist in chapter 23 ring true.  “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.