The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Originally published on Barefoot Theology.

The Rev. Josephine Robertson
All Saints, Bellevue
3/22/2020, Lent 4A
Psalm 23

Just when it feels like the waters of terror are closing over our head this Sunday’s Psalm unrolls green fields in our hearts. For many of us this psalm has been undeniably linked with funerals but leaving it there would be doing it, and ourselves, a deep disservice.

This is a love song to God.

A reminder to the poet, a mantra in times of trouble.

I think about my beloved horse, Bear when I read the first lines of this psalm this week. Bear you see, is not at all afraid to show affection. So when I walk up to his stall in the morning and call his name he leaves his hay, or his nap, shoves his face into my hands for scratches and begins to groom my jacket, or shoulder, or hair. It is a ritual of companionship.

We think of shepherds and their sheep as rather distant, business partners perhaps. The shepherd makes the sheep go where they need to and the sheep do it because an annoying dog makes them. But shepherds and their sheep, like people and all the rest of our domestic animals, when they live closely together, tend to know and love one another deeply.

If the Lord is our shepherd then God is the one whose voice makes us leap for joy, up from our food or our daydreams. Pushing our face into her hands to have all the itchy places scratched. Though maybe not drooling all over her as Bear does me, but you know, she’s probably fine with it if you do.

This is a song about loneliness, and fear, and the One who is with us in all those things.

It is a song for today. We live in the valley of the shadow of death, invisible disease hangs heavy over the heads of the elderly, the ill. Even the young are beginning to feel the nips of fear at their ankles, and as we withdraw into our homes to try to slow this thing that valley of the shadow of death can become a frighteningly lonely place.

Into that place comes a Divine presence who will not leave us alone. In good times we might be fooled into thinking that God is in our holy places. As those sanctuaries stand empty and dark we need to know that God has always been in our homes, on our couch, at our sink, beside our sick bed.

God has always been in our back garden, and our pantry. In every part of our lives, and always will be. As I have been working from my living room rocking chair I’ve had to make a sort of ottoman because our corgi, Basil, refuses to be separated from me. He has to be touching me at all times.

God is curled up like a cat in your lap, and God is happy for you to curl up like a cat in God’s lap, to rest there to dump your fears and your tears and your loneliness into a lap that can fit the whole world and is shaped just for you.

God, our wise Grandmother, our doting Father, our careful shepherd is with us, scattered though we are throughout our county, our country, our world. And we are all her family, his flock no matter how far apart we might be physically, in God our we are together.

Fear will come, but neither fear, nor death, no anger, no loneliness, nor anything else in this world (or any world) can separate us from God, from the one who loves us beyond reason. Amen.

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