The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
My life over the past week has felt more like something out of a movie I’d go see in the cinema than a life that I would normally live. The plot is foreboding - the hero is in a race against time to move to a new city in a new country and start a new job in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens to close the borders of many countries, shut down most of the airlines, and require all non-essential workers to stay home.
It was a hard week. And I know there are so many around the world for whom the week has been even harder. I recognize my privilege in this moment to have a safe place to live, food to eat, and a job that is beginning rather than ending. The world is a scary place for so many people right now. I feel Psalm 23 a little more viscerally this week than I ever have before.
How many times have I cited the words - “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death?” More times than I can count - at almost every funeral I have ever led, in many a confirmation class as I helped the students memorize the words, and in my own personal prayer practices. I’m not sure I ever really felt those words before. I read them. I spoke them out loud. But I didn’t feel them.
Right now? In the midst of global pandemic? In the midst of seeing the world economy shut down, threatening to leave behind those who are already the most vulnerable, feeling my own vulnerability in the midst of this even while acknowledging my extreme privilege? Right now, I feel it. The looming threat of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 feels like we as the human race are indeed walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Yea though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death - we shall not fear for God is with us. Our invitation to not fear does not mean we will never be scared. I’ve been scared this last week, I’m sure many of you have been, too, and that’s okay. Experiencing fear does not mean we lack faith. But the promise we have in Psalm 23 means that we don’t need to dwell in our fear, for we can dwell with God, instead. We can trust that he will lead us through these dark times, out of the valley, and once again by the green pastures and still waters.
Our trust in God does not give us a license to flaunt best practices for making it through this pandemic. I firmly believe that God has given us scientists, doctors, and global health experts for a reason and we should do our best to listen to them as they guide us on how best to navigate these unprecedented times. God does not promise that we will arrive on the other side of this unscathed, untouched,or unharmed, rather God promises that God will be with us through it all, no matter what happens.
The world is facing the biggest challenge we have seen in a generation. How we react to this crisis will show us what we are made of, will show us what we value. I pray that we as Christians will show the world that we value our faith in God and that we are made of love for our neighbor, even if that love means getting creative about how to care for one another while still keeping our distance.
Though it seems like much of the world is cancelled right now, like death might be winning, know this - Love is not cancelled, Faith is not cancelled, Hope is not cancelled. Easter is still coming, death will not be victorious for Christ has already won that battle for us. We will get through this valley of the shadow of death, with God’s ever-present help.
And if you find yourself needing a reminder? Well, fun fact: It takes about 25 seconds to recite the 23rd psalm. You can say these words to yourself multiple times a day as you wash your hands thoroughly. So may we trust God, love people, stay home, and wash our hands.
Oh God, when it feels like fear might overwhelm us, may you remind us of your presence and your promise to be our guide through times of trouble. When it feels like the world is falling apart around us, may you remind us that you still hold it in the palm of your hands. In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.