Dear Siblings in Christ:
The reading from Psalm 23 always brings me back to the basement of Church of the Cross United Methodist Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. My Dad was the pastor there and the Sunday School teacher was, for some reason I don’t remember, trying to help me memorize this verse. Almost all the time the church used the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible but, for this, the King James Bible was pulled out and I remember feeling a bit annoyed. It didn’t really make sense to me with the weird “eth” sounds at the end of random verbs and the “shall” and the “Yea” and “Thou.” I, truly, had no idea what I saying and the verse talked about death, too, in a way that seemed creepy for some reason. If I had known the word “anachronism” I would have likely thrown that in as I complained and whined about having to memorize it but, I did.
20 plus years ago, I was serving in my first called position at Faith United Church of Christ in Dayton, Ohio as an Associate Pastor with the Rev. Steve Camp. He was a great pastor and a great teacher. At one of the first funerals, I followed him around to learn how he did it and, after the memorial service at the funeral home, we were all preparing to leave for the graveside. The family was already outside as I remember it and the pallbearers were getting ready to take the casket to the hearse. I was trying to figure out why we were still standing there when Steve started to explain to me why. He always walked with the casket to the hearse while quietly reading the 23rd Psalm over and over again and then, when everyone was at the cemetery, he would do the same as he led the pallbearers from the hearse to the grave. I never asked why because there was something about it that just felt so right.
Reading the 23rd Psalm during a pandemic feels right, too. I’ve done it a few times over these 64 days since Ash Wednesday. It’s one of the lectionary readings for this week but, after studying it the last few days, I might make it a more regular part of my morning prayer and journaling time. I want to say it as a daily memorial for every family that has had to delay a funeral. I want to say it for every person who is sick, suffering, and wondering if they’ll survive. I want to say it for the medical personnel who are risking their lives to save the lives of others. I want to say it for every worker who I might have taken for granted but I now understand to be essential. I want to say it for every person in an abusive situation now trapped at home with their abuser. I want to say it for every immigrant being taken advantage of by any of those working to make their precarious situation even more precarious. I want to say it for every person whose life is at risk by those who are “restarting” too soon. I want to say it for every epidemiologist who is mourning as their recommendations are compromised or ignored.
And, I say it for another reason, too. These verses aren’t just about the reality of death that’s part of life but the reality of full lives that also include death and risk. So, I want to say it for the comfort and laughter that comes in the midst of mourning. I want to say it for every person who feels better, again. I want to say it for the medical personnel who are finding their lives full of meaning. I want to say it for every worker who is being thanked and honored by our own careful, healthy, respectful moments of interaction. I want to say it for every person in an abusive situation now helped by someone on the other end of the line from organizations like the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I want to say it for every immigrant being helped by organizations like The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. I want to say it for every person who, regardless of social pressure, stays at home or limits their contact with others for the sake of all those they know and love. I want to say it for every epidemiologist who, through their advice and research, saved the lives of thousands.
Even in the middle of times filled with challenge and worry, the goodness and mercy of God are with us, too. These are days of grieving and fear and happiness and comfort all at the same time; all mixed together.
Like most days, really. To recognize this and live into the reality of both needing comfort and needing to help comfort others could be the gift of this surreal moment. Somewhere in it, maybe we’ll find our souls restored as, together, we find a new path forward.
Rev. Mike Denton Conference Minister of
The Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Church of Christ
You can give to the ministries of the Pacific Northwest Conference by going to www.pncucc.org and clicking on the “Donate” button. Follow me on Twitter @denton_rev