‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
It is the funeral psalm, psalm 23. It is a beautiful portrait of the peace and tranquility of God that represents everything we long for and everything we hope to find when our work on Earth is done. In days of tragic loss and deep grief, these words comfort us as we close our eyes and sense the presence of those streams of still waters and the perfectly green pastures.
But this is not a psalm of death! It is one of life and life abundantly. This is another one of those cases where I believe different translations speak volumes, and I love the beauty of this psalm in the New Living Translation.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.”
This brings the power of this psalm right into the present, into the here and now. It is easy for us to hear those opening words – “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” and yearn for the time that is coming when we will not want anything. The time when we will have everything we need. The time defined by streams and pastures and peace.
What keeps us from embracing the promises of this psalm as the present? What keeps us from believing these things can happen before death, before we are lowered into the ground to return to dust? Why do we have so much trouble believing that God has created this tranquility, this calm, and this peace right here for us?
Especially because as we keep reading, we see that the present, the here and now, the life on this earth, is exactly what He had in mind.
“Even when I walk through the dark valley of death” – notice, “even when” not “now that I have” or “now that I have sent my loved one.” No, this is in the present tense, reminding us of the times when trouble comes. It is an active place, not a passive one; it is a present one in the continuum of life, not the final place we will ever go. God never leaves us in the darkest valley as our lasting memory. He walks through it with us and draws us to the other side!
“I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
This is beautiful because of the subtle, delicate interplay of “shall” and “will.” Shall requires a foregone conclusion, something outside of our control. Something predetermined, that we should have no reason, even in our wildest imaginations, to…whatever. In this case, we have no reason to want. But the use here of will means that we are making the choice and drawing the conclusion. We can turn and see God beside us, walking with us, comforting us. We can feel the power of His rod and His staff, and it is at that point that we choose not to be afraid.
And then, here it is:
“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”
There are no enemies in death, no struggle or strife or forces to fight against. If God were trying to tell us about death and grief through this psalm, if He were trying to build our hope for the afterlife and for the Heavens, why would He declare this feast in the presence of our enemies?
Because He is talking about here. And this…this act of communion that we participate in, the bread of the body and the wine of the blood…is that feast.
This is that place in the midst of our enemies where we feast. It is the place where the outside disappears and we are invited simply to come to the table, to partake, and to fill ourselves with good food. Here, at the table, we are to eat and drink of what God has prepared for us with no fear of the darkness, no concern about the powers coming against us 6 other days of the week.
Think about the tremendous contrast here! There is a battle, a war raging where your enemies are against you, and right here in the midst of it all, you decide to sit down and have a meal. You can be vulnerable and relax, trusting in His protection, and let the fullness of His goodness nourish your body, your mind, your soul.
This is where we are nourished, strengthened, and given great rest…a small vacation from the grind of the world.
This is His invitation! This is our table, prepared for us by a loving God.
Let us come and accept His invitation. Let us be His honored guests here, partaking in this feast He has set for us. Let us tell our enemies to wait, put aside all care and concern, choose to live without fear, embrace His provision, and be taken fully in by this sacred moment, this sacred place.