Every so often, a bushfire would ravish the countryside and the change in scenery from one trip to another would be noticeable.
One one occasion I stopped to look more closely at a spot that had been left black and denuded by a fierce bushfire a month or two earlier.
As I walked through an area that had once been covered in heavy undergrowth and dense bush I was confronted by the devastating effects of a fire that had left trees and bushes, and even the sand beneath my feet, black and lifeless. But as I looked closer it was clear that lifeless was not the correct word to describe this place.
Tiny green shoots were breaking through the dry sand at my feet, and splashes of bright green contrasted with the blackness of burnt tree trunks as fresh shoots pushed aside the symbols of death and reached towards the sunlight.
A few times recently I have had cause to read Psalm 23 which says, in part:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Whatever dark valley I go through the promise of God’s Word is that the fresh green shoots of God’s love and grace will continue to push through.
Even in the presence of enemies the table of grace will be prepared for me. Whether those enemies are people who bring fear and anguish to my life, or they are the enemies of death, disease, unemployment, loss, or poverty that bang angrily at the windows of my life, the table is still spread for me.
It is a table of life. A table that welcomes me when I don’t feel welcome in other situations. A table that offers hope and refreshment. It is a table that groans with the weight of fresh fruit, and delicious food. The contrast between the bright colours of the food and the blackness of the scenery around me is unbelievable.
On this table is the bread and wine that speaks of the overwhelming grace of One who was prepared to go through the darkest valley on my behalf.
And while I long to withdraw from this blackened place where my enemies hover in the shadows, I am drawn to this incredible table that has been set for me. Here in the presence of my enemies I experience forgiveness as I eat of the bread and drink of the wine; I can feel the oil of joy running down my head … and I know that I am at home.