Psalm 23 - Surely

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Psalm 23, NRSV
4th Sunday of Lent, Year A
4th Sunday of Easter
Proper 11, Year B, Sunday between July 17 and July 23
Proper 23, Year A, Sunday between October 9 and October 15

If you know any psalm, it is this one. Words which have spoken for centuries to people in need of comfort and confidence and hope.

There is nothing I can say that adds to what is already hallowed by generations and countless millions of those who put their trust in these words and in the God of which they speak.

While the psalm may be used at any time, it is traditionally said at time of death, as it approaches, and over the body of the departed, as we read it today for my Aunt Loida. The old language of the King James Version ("the valley of the shadow of death") speaks evocatively to those times where death is near.

It is no wonder how readily people turn to these words in times of doubt, change, or trouble. The psalm claims the Lord is my shepherd. There are times where we really need to hear that. The psalm carefully and quickly leads us, starting with God, the good shepherd who knows what is good for us, and leads us there.

Death is a real foe, and so are our human enemies. How wonderful it would be to have a protector, a champion, who stands with us - convincingly and decisively - in the face of those who seek our dimunition or destruction. An anointing in this setting is a statement.

The psalm does more than simply make us confident in God's mercy on our behalf. The words go beyond belief and help shape reality. I personally know of one clear and convincing instance of a person delivered from mortal danger by praying this psalm. When we walk with the Lord as our shepherd, we shall not lack, we shall not be in want for testimony to God's goodness and mercy following us, and leading us our whole life long.

Surely.

Credits:
Peter S., Sheep looking down on Small Water, Lingmell Hill, Cumbria, Great Britain. Copyright © Peter S, licensed under (CC BY-SA 2.0), edited.

Postscript:
Psalm 23 has been set to many forms of music. The best and most beautiful, in my opinion, take care to highlight the wonder-working words. Two of my favorites are:

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