I have been presiding at a lot of funerals lately. There are some seasons of life when few people die. Other times, as it turns out, there are seasons when people you know personally die regularly and often. It is a difficult reality of life, but it is reality.
In the process of working with funeral homes over the years, I have noticed that many of them like to include Psalm 23 in their service folders. Makes sense. In Psalm 23 we are reassured that the Lord is our shepherd, that the Lord's rod and staff will comfort us, and we will be made to lie down in green pastures after we have been led beside still waters. This is all reassuring and comforting imagery. At the heart of the Psalm, though, is a most unsettling verse - "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" (23:4, KJV). It is unsettling to point out that there is a valley of the shadow of death at all, and even more unsettling as people of God that the Psalmist just expects that we will walk through it. Should not those who walk by faith be able to avoid the valley of the shadow of death altogether?
Alas, though, however we might wish the world to be different, it is as it is. God does not promise to keep us from reality but, instead, to save us from its darkest places, people, pains, and perditions. The grace of God is experienced not in life's perfections, but through the divine comforting that leads us beyond the valley of our very real mortality. May we have faith that where God leads, there goodness and mercy shall always follow, even if our journey there is dogged by darkness.
Rev. Seth Nelson, author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor, writes this blog. The blog focuses on the future of the church as well as how God loves and cares for us in the present. He is a pastor in Ronan, Montana.