Staying at Your Post: Reflections on John 10:11-18
Jeremiah and Ezekiel repeatedly condemn the leaders of the nation for being bad shepherds. They insist that it is because of their greed and neglect that the nation has been scattered.
"Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" says the Lord (Jer. 23:1).
"Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: . . . because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves and have not fed my sheep, . . . I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out" (Ezek. 34:7-11, excerpts).
When, in the events of the exile and dispersion, Israel no longer had historical kings, the job description of good shepherd was transferred to the messianic king who would usher in the new order of God and restore justice to the land.
As Christians we believe that king has come and that we are to live in such a way that we mirror his way of being in the world. Every Christian is called to be a shepherd. We each have a sphere of influence, even if we don't think of ourselves as public figures. We are not all called to dramatic situations in which our physical lives are on the line, but there is the less dramatic, daily sacrifice involved in allowing the Good Shepherd to guide the way we offer guidance and nurture to those we encounter each day. That means being vigilant to all that would threaten our flock and not abandoning our post in trying times.
The story of Wallace Henry Hartley is so moving to me because, in a situation in which death was imminent and certain, he did not abandon his post.
What was the band playing in those final moments? Their final song has been much debated. The hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was long a favorite. The Titanic chronicler, Walter Lord, originally thought it was another hymn, "Autumn." Maxtone-Graham says Lord later came to believe it was actually a waltz with a similar name.
"Thanks to Walter Lord, I think the real last tune they played was a little bittersweet waltz by Archibald Joyce," Maxtone-Graham says. "He gave it a French name, as many Edwardian creative people did. They thought if they made it French it would be a little more elegant, so he called it 'Songe d'Automne'-thoughts, or dreams, of autumn."
Whatever that final song, Maxton-Graham has come to think of Wallace Hartley, in those final hours on the Titanic, as a minister tending his flock. Encouraging them to continue playing focused their minds on the beauty of the music at the same time that it calmed others.
"His flock were those musicians," he says. "Hartley was taking care of their spiritual needs near the end of their lives by giving them a job they could do to fill the time. My conviction is it gave as much comfort to the men who were playing as to the people who heard them."
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.