Shadows

Epiphanies come at the oddest of times. Sometimes you are deliberately seeking meaning and understanding and the “AHA!” moment happens. Other times your attention is diverted and an epiphany breaks through unexpectedly. These moments of clarity are always welcome, as they deepen our understanding of God and our relationship with him.

A very long time ago I had an epiphany in the middle of a funeral. I was standing in the pulpit reading the 23rd Psalm when a word jumped out at me and the heavens broke open, with the angel choir singing a loud chord of resonant “AHHHHHH!”

The word was shadow. See if you can spot it.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads 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 You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

And there it is. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the SHADOW of death…” What a lovely epiphany! If you are grieving the loss of a loved one or fearful for your own death, what is this saying?

When David wrote this timeless classic (which is read at almost every funeral I have officiated) he was expressing the hope and the reality of our relationship with God. He praises God for providing for all of his needs. He paints images of green pastures and still waters as a way of suggesting that being in God’s presence is where we find peace. He reminds us that when we are weary and strung out, God restores us. If we are smart enough to follow God, our path will be one of righteousness.

With God, the valley we travel is only a mere shadow of death, for death has no sting.

This powerful image proclaims that death is not a real or a final destination…it is as fleeting as a cloud passing in front of the sun for a moment. Shadows come and go. Death comes and goes. Eternal life is forever, and it is in the house of eternal life that we will dwell with the Lord all the days of our lives. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death to arrive on the other side, where heaven is found.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs 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.

I pray that these words today bring you comfort. When I read them, my cup very much runs over with goodness and mercy.

Christ invites us to come to the table that is prepared before us and feast on peace, hope, comfort, and joy.

Cloud Shadow by Michelle Robertson

Timeless

When you think of something that is timeless, what comes to mind? In art, you might recall pieces like the Mona Lisa or the Statue of David. In music, surely Beethoven’s Fifth and Bizet’s Carmen pop up. In cars it would have to be the Ford Model T or a 1960s era Corvette. In Rock and Roll it would be Stairway to Heaven or anything by Queen. (Argue with me!)

But when it comes to the Psalms there is only ONE. Heads and tails, the 23rd Psalm stands above the rest. Because of its inclusion in most funeral liturgies, it may be the most read aloud scripture of all time. At least in this pastor’s experience it certainly is the one scripture I have read aloud the most and for good reason: it is absolutely beautiful. It teaches us about the nature of God, it includes lyrical phrases, it proclaim’s God’s majesty, and it speaks to the heart of every pilgrim wanderer. It’s timeless!

Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads 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 You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I will always remember having an epiphany during a church matriarch’s funeral. I was preparing to read the 23rd Psalm as a soloist was singing. When my eyes hit the phrase “valley of the SHADOW of death” I realized that God was reminding us that death is just a mere shadow. When the light of Christ hits your life you don’t have to fear what lurks in the shadows any more. His light brings life.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs 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.

If you’ve had a rough week, meditate on these words. You will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER. Surely that balances out the aggravations of inflammatory politics, the constant threat of this pandemic, the uncertainty of our economy, all of our personal struggles, and the upcoming elections. ALL of these things will pass away and God assures us that the days of our lives will be filled with goodness and mercy.

Thanks be to God!

Valley of Shadows by Kathy Schumacher