Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed, alleluia.
This psalm we said today, Psalm 23. I find myself whispering it into the ears of men and women who are dying. I find myself saying it at funerals. I find it etched in stained glass windows showing Jesus carrying a lamb in his arms. They actually did this in Jesus‘ day. If you were a shepherd, you would lead your flock of sheep from one pasture to another, and if a lamb was having a hard time keeping up with the rest of the flock, you would pick it up and carry it. There are carvings of people doing this.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not starve because of drought, because conflict in my region prevents people from bringing food in. I shall not have to watch my children die of dysentery because they don’t have access to clean water. The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord will use me to keep people from starving, to keep people from having to watch their children die of dysentery because they don’t have access to clean water.
The Lord is my shepherd. I will not have to find a place to shelter in the cold drizzle because I have no house or apartment to call home. The Lord is my shepherd, I will have friends to laugh with. Someday I will find someone to share my life with as a spouse, as a beloved if I want. I will find a job after I finish school. The Lord is my shepherd. I will make it through a day of school without being consumed by fear. I will make it out of bed this morning. I will make it through this day of work. I will make it through this day without taking a drink of alcohol, a hit of heroin, a pill of opioid, a bet. I will make it through this day without yelling at someone I love. I will not hurt too badly today. I will remember my name. The Lord will send me to be with someone who is having trouble remembering things.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. There will be people in my life whose smile will make me smile and forget some of my worries. There will be people whose touch will change my whole day for the better. There will be snatches of music which I hear, tree branches waving which I see, the touch of wind on my cheek which I feel, the smell of warm bread baking, that remind me of the core of life, that God’s love wins. There will be moments, perhaps when I am totally absorbed in work, at my job or in the yard or home, or maybe totally absorbed in rest, watching a sunset, watching a beetle climb over a pine cone, there will be moments when my soul is at peace. Perhaps without me even knowing it.
The Lord leads me in right pathways for his name’s sake. The Lord leads me in right pathways, or paths of righteousness as older translations have it, not because I am entitled to it, not because I am so special or great and certainly not because I have earned it somehow by what I say or do, but rather because God is great, because God has earned it by what God does. Because that’s the way God is.
You ever notice that the Twenty Third Psalm is a journey. Yes, we lie down in green pastures, but God quickly leads us beside still waters and in right pathways. Being Christian is not something where we just stay still.
That journey, those right pathways don’t always lead to still waters either, do they. Sometimes they lead to the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes they lead us to stand up for the truth even when that truth is not particularly popular. Sometimes they lead us to insist on integrity even if it annoys our boss or our employees. It can lead us to take actions out of love that our neighbors don’t like.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
And that’s just when we are doing the right thing. There are other times too: Yea, though I have lost my job. Yea, though loneliness weighs on my soul, yea, though I have fallen off the wagon and have gotten throwing up drunk and thereby hurt the people that I love the most. Yea, though debt seems to smother me like a mudslide, though I have missed a day of work because I was depressed, yea, though I see things happening in my community and my nation that make me grit my teeth and shake my head, and feel helpless and futile.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.
Indeed, Jesus is with us. The Good shepherd is with us so closely that he has become one of the sheep and entered the valley of the shadow of death. Remember what we sang today? “Worthy is Christ the Lamb” Christ Good shepherd has become one of the sheep. “Worthy is Christ the Lamb” He has entered the valley of the shadow of death with us. “Worthy is Christ the lamb who was slain.” He has suffered with us and died for us, and that changes everything.
This song we sing from Revelation, where the great overturning of the world toward God’s life, the fall of those powers and rulers in the world which so utterly destroy, the birth of hope is brought about by the lamb who was slain.
“Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.” Blood, in Biblical times, represented the life of a thing, the essence of a thing. So worth is Christ the lamb who was slain, whose life set us free, whose essence set us free, whose being set us free to be people of God even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So that we WILL find at least one thing to do toward God’s love for our neighbor, even if we feel helpless and futile. We WILL find at least one thing to do towards God’s health for ourselves and our families and our world, even if we have just drunk ourselves silly, even if we feel crushed. We will be the people of God, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. God is relentless.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Notice the enemies are still there. Especially the greatest enemies: greed, apathy despair, fear hatred, emotional and physical laziness. They are still there. But God still brings a celebration.
God still lays a feast for us. Here at communion, we are touched by the victory of God’s life. We are touched by that feast which is coming, where the people who have starved will have enough to eat, where children who had no decent water can drink pure, clear water, tart as the sharpest cider, sweet as the richest juice, where everyone has a home to go to, where everyone’s memories have been kept in God’s hands and are finally returned, the feast where love wins. That feast breaks into this day at communion here, and we gain strength from it. We gain strength to go out there and live that victory in a world which, all too often is still defeated. We go out and work for people to have food, now, for children to have clean water, now, for people to have a place to live, now, for people losing their memories, well we might have to remember for them for a while, now.
“You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” Close your eyes. Take a breath, breathe it in slowly. What sweet air. Every ounce of air is a miracle, every millisecond is a torrent of miracles pouring down around us like a summer thunderstorm.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Notice, it’s still a journey. Life with the Good Shepherd. Goodness and mercy still have to follow us because we are still moving. The Hebrew word also means pursue, hunt. Goodness and mercy shall hunt me all the days of my life. God is relentless.
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This torrent of miracle. This journey of peace.
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed, alleluia.