Throughout my years in ministry, I have usually read Psalm 23 during a funeral service. In fact, I have almost exclusively used this psalm for funerals, mostly because that is our cultural interpretation of the psalm. And, I might add, I almost always use it in the King James Version (which is not the version below) because that is how most people remember it.
The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
I have heard another interpretation of this psalm, though, that adds meaning and depth to it. The darkest valley (the valley of the shadow of death, for those who know the King James) is life, and this psalm is a sacramental explanation of how God meets us in life. We are led to restful waters (still waters), which is baptism. A table is set or prepared, which is communion. Our head is bathed or anointed with oil, which is confirmation or chrismation.
Just further proof that there is more than one way to understand some passages of Scripture that are still valid.
Most churches love food. In fact, a regular mantra at many congregations is, “If you feed them, they will come.” Jesus did most of his ministry around meals, as well. Food is a large part of our lives, from what we choose to eat to how we prepare it to the company with whom we eat it. It should come as no surprise, then, that God relays this injunction within the Law about why there are food restriction laws at all:
I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from all other peoples. So you must separate between clean and unclean animals, and between clean and unclean birds. Do not become detestable through some animal, bird, or anything that moves on the fertile ground that I have separated from you as unclean. You must be holy to me, because I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from all other peoples to be my own.
Every time the Jewish people were to eat, it was to be a reminder to them that God had separated them from the rest of the world for a special purpose. It was to show them that God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt, and that God will continue to make a distinction between Israel and the nations in Canaan, to which they were going. It was an ever-present sign that God had given Israel a mission to be a kingdom of priests in the world to bring the knowledge of the Lord to the ends of the earth.
This translates to the Christian experience as well. Through the sacrament of Holy Communion we experience a reminder that we were bought with a great price (especially on today, Good Friday). It is a reminder that God has called us to take up our own crosses every day in order to follow him. It is an ever-present sign that God has given the Church a mission to be a kingdom of priests in the world to bring the knowledge of the Lord to the ends of the earth. And it is a sign that we are to do this together, as the Church, since the sacrament is celebrated in community with each other.
The Israelites were reminded of this every time they ate. Christians are reminded of this every time they partake of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, since we humans need to be reminded frequently, receive Holy Communion as often as you can. If you attend a congregation that does not celebrate the Eucharist frequently, ask why and ask if the frequency can be increased. We never tire of kissing our spouses or spending quality time with our families or doing anything else with people we love. Why would we ever tire of feasting at the Lord’s table?