I did it again this past week. I quizzed a class of lifelong Methodists (average age 67) on how to get into heaven. One said she didn’t know, but hoped she that was doing OK. Two or three others nodded, as if to speak of our blessed assurance would be a sin of pride. One woman ventured to give the answer that she had been taught, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Yes,” I said, “But does that mean believing anything in particular, like the color of his eyes?”
We had been studying Psalm 23, how the Lord is our Shepherd. I wanted them to see how deeply relational this favorite scripture is. It begins by saying that our relationship with God is not based upon believing certain things. We don’t have to say the Apostles’ Creed to get into heaven. Instead the relationship is what it is. No sheep ever thinks too deeply about how he ended up in this particular flock. Each believer speaks of a grace that they did not earn. The Lord is my shepherd, don’t ask me how I lucked into it. I wanted my class of good Methodists to answer that getting into heaven was a matter of having a relationship with Jesus.
Never straying far from relational images, Psalm 23 unpacks the post-Easter message (and postmodern Gospel) in three equal paragraphs. Verses 1-3 say that our life with Jesus as our shepherd is full of God’s grace. Like the disciples in ancient Galilee, we walk with Jesus and find him to be the great provider. He is there in the breaking of the bread and in the way each Sabbath refreshes our souls. He even guides us onto right paths when the world around us becomes morally dysfunctional.
The last verses, 5 and 6, reminds me that I live today with enemies. These same people, will in heaven eat at table with me. I live today with shame and failure, but it has already been promised that I shall drink the overflowing victors cup. The blessed assurance of knowing where I will hang my my hat in the next world changes how I see this one. That’s why Psalm 23 is great to read in the weeks after Easter.
I told my “getting ready to graduate to heaven Sunday School class” that the middle of Psalm 23 is an Easter Egg. Then I had to explain to them that for computer buffs, Easter Eggs are hidden messages or inside jokes programed into software. When you type a certain keystroke pattern, a secret message pops up or a funny animation runs. Within the book of Psalms, somebody programed a similar Easter Egg. It goes like this: If you look a Psalm 24:7-10, you see Palm Sunday. Those were the ancient verses used at the Eastern gate of Jerusalem to greet the anointed king. If you look at Psalm 22, you find Good Friday. Psalm 22:1 was spoken by Jesus on the cross. Half way between Psalm 24 and 22 is the middle of Psalm 23, where we find Easter.
Even if we, or Jesus, walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil. We have a relationship that promises us a resurrection. How cool is that!