I promise I’ll get to the Gospel lesson before the week is out, but as I continue on my quest to see something new in the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, my focus is once again on the comfortable, and comforting, 23rd Psalm. Moving beyond the first verse, we come to the reason why it is read (in its King James form) at the vast majority of Episcopal funerals.
4 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.
Thinking of God, and by extension Jesus the Good Shepherd, as being present with us, even in the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, is an important one. It is part of why the cross is so important as well. Without God having experienced the fullness of our human experience, highs and lows, joys and sorrows, excitements and fears, fellowship and isolation, the redemption that occurs through Christ is less than whole. It is only in the cry of dereliction that the truth of Psalm 23:4 is made full.
God walks with us, not only in those times of happy, clappy fun, but even to the pits of hell – be it forced upon us, or, quite often, a hell of our own making. The solace that comes in knowing that even in our darkest moments a) God has been there and b) God is there, is part of what makes the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd so appealing. In those moments when it seems as though we have nothing left, when it feels like everyone has abandoned us, this image of Christ as the Good Shepherd helps to reinforce that even in those moments, God is there. It assures us, as Jesus says in our Gospel lesson, that as a shepherd, Jesus is willing to go so far as to lay down his life for the sheep. He will not abandon us. He will never gonna give you up. Never gonna let you down. Never gonna run around a desert you.