This post is from a funeral I did this last summer. I wasn't going to share it , but I thought maybe it might help someone else who has lost a loved one. If you do not know the 23rd Psalm, I encourage you to find a bible and read it. And, even if you do know it, pick up your bible and read it, so it is fresh in your mind and heart.
For centuries, the 23rd Psalm has been one of the most treasured passages in all of Holy Scripture. It is among the most familiar, so much so that even people who aren't religious or very knowledgeable about scripture recognize these words. They are among the most comforting, often being quoted in times of trouble or distress, and almost always being read when we gather in our sanctuary for a funeral. There are 3 images from this Psalm that stick out to me that I would like to share with to you today.
The first image comes from the verse, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. It would be so wonderful if God would simply promise to us that we would never go through difficult times. But we do go through these terrible difficulties, and the bible tells us there will be difficult times in our lives, and Psalm 23 voices such a warning. It does not say God will keep you from danger, but rather describes that there will come times when we feel like we are walking through a dark and dangerous valley, a valley of the shadow of death. But, what the Word of God does make clear is that as we move through such times, God is with us.
I will fear no evil, for thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. God is frequently described in the bible as being like a shepherd who cares for, and tends to a flock if sheep. The rod is used by a shepherd to ward off evil and to direct sheep as they walk. The staff with it's large crook at the end serves to support the sheep's body when it crosses a dangerous chasm. The Lord protects, guides, and supports us. He does not send us through the dark valley with a cheerful promise to meet us on the other side. He goes with us every step of the way.
The second thing that sticks out to me is this. Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies. I once saw a story on the History Channel about a battle from WW 1. It was a story of an American who had enlisted in the British army, and was fighting in the war a long time before most Americans. He was fighting on a stretch of land for days, and they and the Germans were at a stalemate as the battle continued into Christmas day. The fighting stopped, and all was quiet. Late in the morning German officers under a white flag moved towards the British lines and conferred with British officers. The 2 armies pooled food together for a great Christmas meal. The soldiers from each side ate together and sang some songs together that had different words, but had common tunes. If you know anything about this period of time, you know that there was great hatred between these nations, but there they were eating together in the presence of an enemy. Later, the American soldier had said that he had glimpsed a time in the future when all of them would be together in Heaven, and all of the Earthly conflicts will be no more.
The 3rd and final image that I would like to lift up today is this. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. The end of our journey through this earthly life is to be with God forever. In baptism we are made members of God's household, and our destiny is made secure through faith. Sometimes the journey is filled with joy, and sometimes it is very sad and lonely. Yet the promise that God has already given us, eternal life with Him, sustains us in our journey, and gives substance to our hope.
The goodness and mercy that follow us are not something we achieve by ourselves, they are given to us by the sheer grace of God. Were it not for God's forgiveness our sins and mistakes would quickly disqualify us for eternal life. But with God, there is goodness and mercy, supremely evident in His Son Jesus Christ. Our life on Earth and our life with God forever, are the product of His Grace.
This is something all of us will do well to remember as we look now to the days ahead. The grief we feel, and all the the emotions that go with that grief can tempt us to unbelief, irrational behavior, and deep and dark sadness. But, the goodness and mercy of God will follow us all the days of our life, giving us broad latitude to work through our grief and sorrow, for it is not God's will that anyone living or dead be separated from Him forever.
We have gathered here today, not only to grieve the death of a loved one, but to also thank God for his life among us, and for his eternal life with God.
We have gathered, not only to mourn over how different life will be without him, but to also give thanks to God for how full life was when he was with us.
We have gathered, not only to consider the shortness and uncertainty of life on Earth, but to also give thanks to God for His gift of eternal life in Heaven...... Amen