My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.
Once again, we had a really meaningful annual blessing of the animals. This year, we gathered in cars in the parking lot and shared a liturgy thanking God for our pets and service animals. We also prayed for those animal friends we have lost in the last year. For so many of us, our creatures are a part of family life at home. When we gather on Sundays, that is our faith family. After the service, the youth gathered to talk about animals in scripture. God made animals first and then Adam to care for them. It's only after the creation story that God makes more people so Adam isn't lonely, but God calls the creation good before there are people everywhere.
We find animals depicted prominently in the Psalms and in Proverbs, in Job and Jonah, the minor and major prophets, and the ways God and angels are described throughout the Old Testament. Jesus begins the Gospels by being born among animals in a manger and visited by shepherds. His ministry is kicked off by the Spirit descending like a dove at his baptism. Jesus advises his disciples to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves, to be obedient sheep and not wandering goats or like broods of vipers. And Jesus weeps over Jerusalem in his final week, longing to gather his people like a mother hen. And animals are important in Revelation and the prophetic visions of the peaceful kingdom where animals live in peace and a child leads us all.
Reading and discussing the many Biblical examples of animals, including the dogs that tend to Lazarus' wounds, it feels appropriate to have a service each year that honors them. I asked the youth what lessons animals teach us. They talked about friendship and unconditional love, the way pets love them no matter how bad a day they have. They talked about learning to care for someone who depends on them like a younger sibling, a child one day might, or an aging relative. And they talked about how loyal and obedient they are. Lastly, they mentioned how pets don't tend to live as long as us and we experience loss and grief, preparing us for those parts of life when we lose people we love. Animals have gifted our youth a maturity and spirit of readiness for what God calls them to next. The service provides an opportunity to acknowledge the gift God gives us in animals, both the joys and sorrows.
Last year, after our service, one family reached out to me with sad news. The small dog they brought was much older than I knew and had been ill. She passed away that night. The family said it was like she was waiting to be blessed. That story stuck with me all year. They didn't attend this year's blessing, but I know why. They were on the road out of state to pick up a new little dog. One of the youth said, "I hope they'll be here next year!" I imagine they will be. I hope you will be too, whether you have a pet or not.