Psalm 23 is a favorite of believer and non- believer alike. It is the most familiar, most often quoted selection of the Old Testament hymnbook. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” It is perhaps not easier said or believed as we enter another week of hunkering down and hoarding of the essentials. I am praying for the school children who will miss meals because schools are closed.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures…”. I am concerned about those who are experiencing homelessness. With prime real estate and home market values on the tip of our society’s capitalistic tongue, I am wondering where disconnected kin fit in, where they belong at a time like this. They cannot afford the American dream; the down payment is a bed and a pillow.
“He leads me beside still waters…” Do all the residents of Michigan still not have clean water? Follow the trail. Who has taken the lead on this and why does it keep coming back to these kinds of disparities?
“He restores my soul.” I hope that a neighbor will check in on the battered who now bunk with their abuser without breaks. Please don’t let her or him be found within an inch of their life. Create more distance between them.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” But they do not lead to the church doors. Many of our local governments have asked all non- essential businesses to close to tamp down on the spread of the Coronavirus and this includes sacred spaces. Paul said to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” but there are some who believe it’s not applicable in times like these (Romans 13.1, NRSV). They offer a false choice— faith or fear?
I know that we are a people who gather, who find our meaning in groups. But Jesus believed in really, really small groups: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18.20, NRSV). Less than ten, Jesus is not concerned about the numbers or attendance records. Consequently, the most- empty places on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m., Easter or otherwise, should be the church.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil…” We are in the middle of Holy Week and have been told by the U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, that this will be the worst week of this global pandemic that has pounded the health care systems of the United States without mercy. There will be more death, more shadowy days. This is a valley.
Still, we are reminded that even in death, God is with us. Rod, staff, Jesus’s cross, we find comfort in them all. Jesus has walked in our shoes. Jesus is walking with us through this. He is acquainted with grief and knows sorrow (Isaiah 53.3).
He has even eaten with his enemies as our family members may have switched sides in our heads after weeks of confinement and close quarters. We don’t know who these people are anymore. The food is great and plentiful but we could use some new dinner guests. We lick our fingers and suck our teeth. We pat our feet or rub our temples and are reminded, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
What follows in the weeks ahead is unknown. What life will be like after weeks of quarantine and death on a global scale is uncertain. Still, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We know what is up ahead for him. Yet, we take up our crosses and follow suit. But when there is literal death all around, it can make such confessions harder and the steps more difficult to take.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” They act more like bodyguards these days. We don’t want anyone to come near us. Six feet apart. Tape on floors in the grocery stores remind us to keep our distance.
And still, we can draw nearer, come closer to God than we ever have before. Having given up more than all of our Lenten diets combined, we might even venture to step on the heels of Jesus. Lonely, disconnected from his followers, pained beyond belief, this Holy Week may hit us harder but it will also ring truer. Stripped bare of all of our commercial comforts and aesthetic updates and stripped down to the basics of home, it is life squeezed tight.
This makes the final words of David’s psalm not come out right. “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Stuck in the valley, the biggest hump day of my life, this is hard to follow. I am looking forward to the Resurrection like never before.