March 17, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Psalm 23:1-6 (NRSV)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
(Note: the translation above is the one used in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, made especially for that prayer book. The link above will take you to the Psalm in the NRSV; you may also choose to read it in the KJV, which is familiar to many.)
It is the Lord who restores our soul, who walks through the valley with us, who spreads a table before us.
We’ve been at this Lent thing for a while now; tomorrow is the fourth Sunday in Lent. If you’re anything like me, right now may be the point when it is really beginning to wear on you. If you gave something up for Lent, you might be longing to get whatever it is back; if you took on a practice—perhaps extra prayer or study—it may be beginning to feel burdensome.
Sometimes the burden is so great that we do give up. In late February 2020—Ash Wednesday was on February 26 that year—I decided that what I would give up for Lent was reading social media in bed before I got up for the day. That lasted until March 11, 2020, the day the federal government declared COVID-19 officially to be a pandemic. I was so traumatized and anxious for news that I went back to reading social media on my phone in bed before I got up—a habit I have still not broken. (Maybe I can do something about breaking that habit before the COVID-19 public health emergency officially finally expires on May 11, 2023.)
I remember one of my friends commenting that Lent 2020—when, at least at my church, we were unable to gather together for Easter celebrations—was the “Lent-iest Lent” she had “ever Lented.” (Writer Andy Crouch posted on Twitter that March 11 that he “honestly hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.”)
I came away from that whole experience feeling a little differently about Lent—both in its austerity and in its anticipation of Easter joy. I am by nature a bit of a perfectionist, and Lenten disciplines have always attracted me because of their rigor. But that year, keeping them seemed artificial when the world around me was already demanding a rigor of time, place, and lack of human community which I found difficult to keep. All that and stay off social media? All that and study the Bible more? All that and give up chocolate? You had to be kidding! Bring on Easter!
When we finally gathered for Easter at my church, it was April 4, 2021—the first Eucharist we had celebrated in my parish since March 1, 2020, one year, one month, and four days previous. It was in some ways awkward. We celebrated outside with masks on, sitting under tents to keep off the sun and wind, on socially distanced chairs. But by golly, we were there and not on Zoom. (See very blurry picture.) Just as I had learned austerity anew in that one year, one month, and four days, I now learned joy in a new way.
In my tradition we usually don’t preach on the assigned Psalm for the day, though we recite it in worship; but after I recalled this memory, there wasn’t really any other Scripture I could choose from this week’s lectionary for this day’s devotional. It was the Lord who restored my soul, who walked through the valley with me, who spread a table before me. If you’re having the Lent-iest Lent you have ever Lented, hang on.
Where do you need Lenten discipline?
Where do you need Easter grace?
There are so many beautiful settings of Psalm 23. This is the one I learned first—my mother liked it because a version of it had been played at the wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth, and so she chose it for her own wedding, and eventually urged me to choose it for mine. Pray, listen, and worship.
Lord, walk through the valley of the shadow of death with us, now and always. Amen.
Banner image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Texas Version of Ephesians 5:8-14.
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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