Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
Our online services began on March 19th with our weekday Morning Prayer and on March 22nd with Sunday Worship. It has been two months since we were all together in this place of worship. A great deal has happened since this began, and a great has not happened. Businesses, services, and our economy have suffered tremendous losses and every life has been impacted in one way or another.
The human race is creative, though, and we’ve found ways to entertain ourselves, to survive, and to worship. I see more people out walking and sitting on their porches waving at passersby. Zoom, Facebook Live, Google Hangout – and other online meeting spaces have replaced classrooms, churches, board rooms, and meeting rooms. Even travel, for many of us, is now virtual. I haven’t been to a meeting at the diocesan office in months, but I’ve attended several.
What hasn’t changed since this all began, is that church consists of fewer than 10 people broadcasting our service from a church with empty pews. We don’t know when this will change, we don’t know when we can safety return to worshiping in person together– but we do know that the words of the psalmist are true: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . you are with me.”
We have changed the way we live because the COVID-19 virus has placed us in the valley of the shadow of death. But God has not abandoned us. We are not experiencing God’s judgement against us, as some might suggest. For, it is the Lord who leads us through this valley. I know that God is present with me and with each of you as we struggle to find comfort. This psalm puts what is happening in perspective.
When we trust in the Lord as our shepherd and allow God to lead us through a valley of uncertainty, we may find that we are comforted. And what’s more, we may come to understand that we are blessed. Our cup is running over with the goodness and mercy of the Lord, who is with us.
Notice that in the 23rd Psalm, like today, it acknowledges the threat of death that surrounds us in this life. Notice, too, that those who trouble or threaten us don’t go away – they are still with us. But so is God’s mercy and kindness and comfort.
This psalm is often read at funerals because it mentions death, a heavenly banquet, and life eternal in the house of the Lord. I find, however, that it is as much about living, as it is about life everlasting. It can remind us that we need to trust and follow God. God’s “goodness and mercy” does, indeed, “follow [us] all the days of [our lives]” even when we fail to see and feel God’s presence.
Living our lives in the face of death is nothing new. We have always lived our lives in the face of death. The pandemic simply makes us more aware of this fact – it makes the reality of our mortality seem all the more real. Precautions are important, precautions are an expression of love for our neighbor because they lessen the likeliness of infecting others as well as ourselves. Living in fear of dying, however, is something altogether different.
When I worked in hospice, I learned a great deal about living. I learned that we can enjoy our lives, while living in the shadow of death. We can live and be apart of this life until we aren’t. As a priest, I have walked with people who are dying and have found that people of great faith are often healthier in dying than most of us are in living. Being a person of great faith does not mean we don’t have doubts or questions about what is to come. No, being a person of great faith means living our lives in love.
In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the sheep hearing the voice of their shepherd and following their shepherd through the gate. Different herds might be placed in a pen together at night, then each shepherd would lead their flock out in the morning to a pasture to eat, and to water to drink. The voice of Christ, our Good Shepherd is the voice of love. Being a person of great faith doesn’t require us to be free of doubt, to have a profound theology or even great certainty about anything. Being a person of great faith simply requires us to follow our hearts down the path of love. Where love leads us there is life and there is comfort and there is God.
As our community, our state, our nation, and our world begin to reopen and return to a more normal life, I pray that we will listen to the voice of our shepherd and follow Christ on the path of love. May we be patient, so as not to rush ahead too quickly, and may we remember the lessons we have learned this past several weeks.
“We will get through this together,” has been said in reference to the pandemic, but it needs to be said about life in general. Understanding that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, is important if we are to experience the life Jesus has promised each of us. It is a life where we need to acknowledge that we are not in control, but this is okay because we are surrounded by love. We are enveloped in the love of our shepherd who is here to lead us to green pasture, where there is all that we need.
We will not only get through this together, the goodness and mercy of the Lord will follow us all the days of our lives. We will get through this – of that I have no doubt. The greater question is, will we attempt to go at it alone in fear, or will we trust that love, God’s love, will get us through it? Too often, we try to take charge of our own fate, but we are never really completely in charge. Yes, what we do, or do not do, can make a difference and it affects others – so it is important to be responsible. But finding peace requires us to trust the one who will lead us all, together, through this valley to where we will be feed and comforted by our creator’s undying love and mercy.
Let us pray.
Lord we pray for the peace that overcomes fear, the peace we find when listen for your voice and follow you on the path of love. Help us to remember that we are in this together and that you are in our midst offering your goodness and comfort to all. We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.