Over the last week, as we have laid to rest two of Capitol City’s most beloved and influential saints, the words of Psalm 23 have been ringing in my head. It’s been a week of mourning and grief for all of us. But in that dark and heavy space, two images, side by side, have been a dim-but-growing light to my soul.
“The LORD is my shepherd,” writes David (Psa 23:1a). This might be the most intimate and personal picture of God we see in the Bible. In other passages, he is a Rock. A Shelter. A Fortress. A Deliverer. A King. I’m so thankful that God is all of those things, but this week I have been especially thankful that God is a Shepherd. Right now, those other pictures of God seem distant to me. They seem impersonal, even. But God is both personal and near – for he is a Shepherd. He is my Shepherd.
Shepherds eat with their sheep. They walk with their sheep. They care for their sheep. They usually smell like their sheep. To a good shepherd, the sheep are his life. He is everything to them: provider, protector, and physician. He knows them, and they know him. This is a relationship of tender, personal love and care. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psa 23:1b-2). God is all these things to his people. Furthermore, he is all these things to his people even in places where no one else can go. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psa 23:4a). All other guides, counselors, friends, and leaders will depart from us when we pass through death’s shadow. But the Lord, our personal, intimate, good shepherd, shall not. He shall be with us.
But the Lord is not only our Shepherd: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psa 23:5). According to Psalm 23, the Lord our Shepherd is also our Host. He prepares a banquet table for us, welcoming us to his gracious feast. Our cups will overflow with abundance, so generous is our Host. And because of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), the Good Shepherd who became the slaughtered lamb, we don’t sit at this table as guests. We sit at this table as sons and daugthers.
I hope you know the One who prepares a place for his sheep, for his children. I hope you know the One who is hosting, at this very moment, an unending feast of joy and celebration and worship. Loraine Metzger knew him. Karen Grove knew him. At this very moment, they have been shepherded through death’s shadow and they sit, feasting with him. May the hope of knowing him be a growing light to us all in the darkness of our grief and mourning.