“Beside the Still Waters”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
When is it that we are most often drawn to prayer? Isn’t it when there is danger and death? How many experiences are there in life that cause insecurity for us and the need to reach out to hold on to something that will defend and strengthen us? This well-loved Psalm offers the strength and defense we need at a time like this, a time when death has driven its pain and sorrow into our hearts. “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.”
Where is the valley of the shadow of death? It is in this life. The shadow of death was over us the moment we entered this life. The moment we began to live we also had to struggle against sin and its power to destroy us. There is no comfort like that which assures us of our victory over sin and death. And this is a comfort we need each and every day of our life and in that hour that is appointed for our departure from this life.
David, the author of this Psalm, was a shepherd before he became King of Israel. As David looked at his flock and thought of his work as a shepherd and of how God had taken care of him, he described all of that in the words of this Psalm. All that he was to his sheep, helpless as they were, all the watching and caring and protecting he gave them, God had given the same to him in an even greater measure. David’s heart was made glad and strong as he thought of the many ways God had sustained him through his life. And these are the experiences of God’s people at all times. He never fails, in life or in death, to provide all that we really need.
It is true that the Lord has not promised to spare us from evil, or that it will not come to us. There are many difficult things that we must endure in life; sickness and pain, trials and temptations and persecutions. Christians are called on to endure every type of conflict and suffering. But we trust our Shepherd and do not fear the evil that may come. We know that there will be times when we suffer, but our Shepherd will never let us be harmed by them. His guidance will never lead to failure. Our Shepherd knows the way, for He Himself has lived in this world and has overcome its every affliction and temptation.
But it is important that we be reminded that we are mortal beings, that the wages of sin is death, that we are sinners, and death will come to us all. And because of our sinful nature we fear death, its darkness and its uncertainty. But even here, God comes to us with comfort and protection in the Shepherd He has provided for us. That Good Shepherd knows not only the shadow of death, but death itself. In our place He met death at the cross. There His life was given, His blood was shed for our sins and for the sins of the whole world. Death, hell, and the grave could not hold Him, as He broke their chains on Easter morning.
And now, as we know our sins and repent of them, God proclaims that our sins are forgiven for the sake of this Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Death becomes only a shadow for us. With St. Paul we can say, “O death, where is thy sting? But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The enemy stung the Shepherd to death, but death left his sting in the cross where Jesus died. Since Jesus rose from the dead, there remains only the shadow of death for the faithful of the Lord. Through Holy Baptism, the still waters the Lord leads us to, we die with Christ to sin and death, and then we rise with Christ, our souls restored. This is our comfort when we consider Robert, for it is in those still waters that Bob’s soul was restored and He was made a child of the Father’s flock. The shadow of death has become harmless; it can no longer destroy. To the sheep of the Lord’s flock death is but a passage, a transition, a valley that is passed through without stopping until we are at home with the Lord, forever to be with Him.
It is under the grace of our Good Shepherd that we have gathered here this day. He knows how hard it is for us to part with loved ones. But we are not here in faithless sorrow. The world may make much of its sorrows and losses that lead to hopelessness and despair. The unbelieving world has no Shepherd and cannot know what the flock of God knows. But we have a faithful Shepherd. We may be laid low at times in our trials and struggles, but we never lose sight of the joy of life and salvation which we receive in Holy Baptism. We have gathered to receive comfort and consolation, to be strengthened to go on. The burdens and struggles and sorrow will not go away, but comfort and joy will come in abundance because our Good Shepherd is faithful. With still waters He restores the souls of His sheep. With His rod and staff He will protect His own. He will give grace and strength to carry on in the ways of righteousness and peace, until that day when He leads each of us through the valley of the shadow of death to our home, prepared for us in heaven. We can pray confidently David’s own words, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.