Even people who have never cracked open a bible, are familiar with Psalm 23. And many would be able to recite it by heart. Its association with death and funerals is indelible, unlikely to be forgotten. American comedian Gilda Radner, who struggled many years with illness famously said, “I have lived in the valley of the shadow of death and I wouldn’t want a condominium there!”
That being said; the psalm is not about death, despite the phrase, “in the valley of the shadow of death.” It is a poem about life. Thankfully, we don’t know when death will come, so in a very real sense all of life is lived in the shadow of death (either our own or that of others).
Consider the phrase, “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.” That’s the phrase that brings this psalm back to the here and now, “all the days of my life”. The promise is that the shepherd (God) provides nourishment, guidance and safety, and all of it in abundance. And all of it in this life; maybe the next too, but this psalm is about this life.
Another way of talking about nourishment, guidance and safety is renewal, presence and belonging. The nourishment we crave includes feeding our souls (making sure our spiritual needs are met). The guidance we seek includes the assurance of God’s presence (the Holy Spirit continues to guide and inspire people). The safety (or salvation) that is promised includes a sense of belonging to God and to one another (communion is about being in community with God and God’s people).
Come to think of it, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to live in the condominium of the Lord for ever.