Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. [Psalm 23:4]
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. Beloved … family, and friends… this is a beautiful text taken from a beautiful psalm. It sings of the blessings and riches of a life under the shepherd-like care of the Lord. The care … and all of you have lived under since childhood.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters;
He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
A beautiful psalm full of comfort and protection. But how does this psalm also fit into this moment of death and grief and pain and sorrow when a wife has to part from her husband and children from their father, parents from son, brother and sister from brother?
… you have lost a husband with which you have lived and worked together for twenty-eight years (twenty-six married), in times of sunshine and rain, of success and loss, of happiness and sorrow. Although you did not always agree and at times viewed life and its tasks from a different angle, yet there was a secret tie that tied you together and during the years this tie did not become loose, it grew firmer. Each child you and … brought home from the hospital gave you increased happiness and tied you closer together. Every sickness that visited your home exercised a deepening force upon your union and helped cement it. So you were two and still one. Now the union has ended. The tie torn apart. It has pleased God to call your husband from your side to Himself and you stand alone. That, truly, is a loss that saddens your heart, all the more so when you look for assurance, for an understanding heart, and for a helping hand.
And to you, … the death of your father is likewise a great loss, even though the two of you have begun to establish your own lives. To good children father remains father even if they have moved away from home. When joy fills their heart they want to go to father and tell him and have him participate in their joy. When the shadows of life with their sadness and trying sorrow fall over them, they hurry to father to find strength and consolation from his loving heart and experienced advice. This you can do no longer, and that is what makes this hour an occasion of sorrow and pain for you.
But now listen to our psalm, which has a word for you and for all of us in this time of distress. Here we find the comforting words: “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.” The Psalmist feared no evil. Why not? Because the Lord was with him. His rod and His staff comforted him. The Lord was his rod that showed him the way even in the dark. He was his staff that protected him and gave him strength to go his way fearlessly although enemies were lying in wait for him at the right and at the left. So it is with you who mourn for…
It is true, the road of your life is narrow, the shadows of evening will fall upon you and the dangers of lonesomeness and bodily weakness will threaten you — and it is a terrible thing to be lonesome and to have no one to whom one can tell her inmost thoughts — but be not afraid. Listen to the Psalmist: “I fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The Lord, the almighty and merciful One stands with you always.
It is the LORD, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Himself. He is with you, that you need not fear. His rod and staff will comfort you. He has overcome death when He died on the cross and rose again Easter morning. He can console you when the hour of death overshadows you. He has taken away the sin of the world. Mine and yours. Therefore you shall not want, neither in life nor in death.
The same is true with you, dear children of our deceased brother. The Lord stands ready to be with you in this hour of distress. To be with you in all the life before you. Do not push Him away. Do not hush His voice. Do not let Him stand and go your way without Him. Your father advised and comforted you. The Lord is a still-better adviser and comforter. He stirs up the soul. He gives courage in loss, strength in weakness. He cleanses our heart with forgiveness. He enables our mind. He directs our thoughts to that which is everlasting. He will be our rod and staff in all the confusion and anxiety of life and death. The Lord is your shepherd, with Him at your side You shall not want…
We must all descend into the shadow of the valley of death. We descend by various paths and at various ages, but we must all descend. The hour may be much nearer than we think. This past Sunday none of us imagined that we would assemble here this afternoon around the casket of our departed brother. Today we are well. Tomorrow we may be dead. Who knows how near this end may be? Is there anyone ready to step to our side? Is there anyone ready to protect us from this?
There is One. He will be with us. We need not fear anything, not even bodily death. His rod and staff comfort us. He overcame death when He died on the cross and showed us our hope in the resurrection is sure and true when He rose again on Easter morning. Thus, even now, when the hurt that has settled into our hearts over … death seems ready to wash away hope we cling to the consolation that is with us always. Only God’s baptismal promises can sustain us when the hour of death threatens to overwhelm us. That is, by Jesus’ death in our name, and by our baptismal death in His Name, we already have one foot in the resurrection. In God’s baptismal promises … and all of you can rest, not in your heart’s desires, which fade, wither, and wear out over time, but in the grace of God which works entirely by raising the dead. No uncertainties. No anxiety. Just God’s abundant, unbreakable promise that, “We were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” [Romans 6:3-5]
This is our mighty Lord, the Shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ who stands at our side. Upon Him depends all, your death and your eternal life. I beg you, then, this afternoon, listen to His voice. He comes to you with His words of comfort and protection. Hear them. Use them, especially now when you are so terribly shaken by … death. In Jesus’ sheepfold you shall not want, neither in death nor in eternal life. Amen.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself, Jesus Christ, lead you with His rod and staff through the darkness and dread of sin and death, and give you peace, hope, and courage always in every way until He graciously takes you from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven. Amen.