Of these four psalms, 22 and 23 leap out, for their familiarity including in our worship.
I can’t read Psalm 22 without hearing it in the setting of Jesus’ prayer from the Cross. There it becomes the supreme demonstration that God is in the mess with us. It’s a gift to us not only that we have these words to pray when we need to, but even beyond that, that we know that Jesus himself needed to shout them. God understands our need to cry out to him from the depths. Not only did he give us the words to do it, he used them himself.
Then comes Psalm 23. On one level it’s obvious that Psalm 22 is followed by Psalm 23. On a deeper level it feels like more than a coincidence that a Psalm of deep despair is followed by one of supreme confidence – not that life will be easy but that within God’s care no threat can overwhelm us. Whether sung or spoken, I almost always use these words at funerals – they give one of the strongest images of confidence, even where the mourners know little or nothing of the Bible.
What I don’t spell out in that setting is something which strikes me today. The Good Shepherd can only lead us through the Valley of Death because he has been there before and knows the way.