Yesterday, I assisted at the funeral of a young woman who died last weekend. Though she was only thirty-one, I sensed that she had already experienced more pain and suffering than those who live much longer. This young woman struggled with mental health issues, addiction, and estrangement from her friends and family. No matter how much those who loved her tried to reach out to her, no matter how many times they brought her in for treatment, she would push them away, unable to accept the help they offered. I was profoundly aware that this young woman was running away from something that neither she nor anyone else could understand.
As the congregation mourned, we recited the healing words of the 23rd Psalm. This extraordinary meditation on the depth of God’s love is comforting in many ways, but I draw the most solace from the fact that most versions of the bible translate a verb in the final verse incorrectly: “Surely, your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). As it happens, the verb most versions translate as “follow” is closer to “pursue.” The Psalmist is saying that God’s goodness and mercy, that God’s compassionate love, that God’s identity as our shepherd is something that pursues us through every step of our journey through life. God’s love pursues us even when we try to push back and run away from it. The 23rd Psalm assures us that we cannot outrun the love and compassion of God. The 23rd Psalm promises that even when we refuse God’s love, even when we reject God’s mercy, God will continue to pursue us with a persistent and inescapable love that transcends even death.
Lent is one of the times in the Church year that we slow down intentionally, a time that we pause and make an effort to turn around and embrace the love that God offers. While we may occasionally be successful, there will invariably be times when we will get caught up in our own self-interest, when we will refuse the grace God offers, when we will push back and run away from God. Nevertheless, we can be confident that God will continue to pursue us with a compassionate love that we simply cannot outrun. It is for this reason that we can, like Paul, be confident that neither angels, nor rulers, nor addiction, nor estrangement, nor backsliding, nor heard-heartedness, nor anything else in all creation, including death itself, can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.