The psalter reading for Monday in Holy Week is Psalm 36:5-10, a kind of midrash on the First Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42:1-9. In my prayer book, however, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, the Psalm for today is the Twenty-third.
How often I have read these words in hospitals, at funeral homes and funeral services--how often, indeed, have I sung the Scottish setting, a capella, to the tune of Amazing Grace--for the comfort the Psalm mysteriously conveys. The comfort is mysterious: we are most of us long-removed from the kind of pastoral or agrarian context from which the images spring. Still, as I have often heard, there is something about the words.
And yet...often as I have read them for comfort, rarely have I felt the comfort they seem to afford to others. Which is to say, I am seldom without "want." Deep down somewhere I know that what I want is to want God, but most days I am aware of other, lesser desires. I am not in green pastures, but rather in a rocky little field that vexes my spirit and tires my back. The waters near me and beyond in the great wide world are not "still," but troubled and ever more so--if perhaps with the final thrashings of a doomed era.
Which is to say my soul needs refreshing, but it is not refreshed yet. Oh, that God would lead me in righteous paths, not so much for the benefit it might afford me personally (though I would not begrudge it) but so that I might show a more peaceful way, be a light or reflection of light, in the dark lostness of these days--which is to say, I wish God would lead me but for the validation and vindication and sake of his own Name and his Son's Gospel.
This Holy Week, as we walk in the valley of the shadow of Golgotha, may I fear only the evil in me that would kill this man, using rod and staff to torture and splay him. He prepared a Table for his friends, then and now, in the presence of his enemies--and I am too often one of them, anointing his head with his own blood. The cup of his suffering overflows on account of us who fall away time and again.
And still, goodness and mercy follow us. Flow from him and follow us, all the days of our lives. His goodness and mercy seek to save us, to bring us to his Table, to give us what we cannot attain.
Judgment and mercy meet in this Psalm, as do lamentation and aspiration. At least those are the voices I hear.