Summary: Christ the Good Shepherd can lead us through the dark valleys because He’s been there. He laid down His life for His sheep.
Funeral Service Meditation, “The Shepherd & the Valley” -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil; for Thou art with me.”
These words were written by a shepherd—David lived with suffering, pain and loss, yet he survived with his faith intact because he trusted the Shepherd and Healer of his soul.
We are faced with the sober reality of death. We cannot forget that Lorne Payson died, but we can remember that he lived; we can remember who he was, and the contribution he made to his family, his community, and our lives. And our response to his death can be one of hope.
There’s no such thing as false hope, because there is a secure hope as we face death—that hope is found in our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He leads His flock not simply to but through the dark valleys. We need not fear death; Jesus has assured us that He is right there with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
Christ the Good Shepherd can lead us through the dark valleys because He’s been there. He laid down His life for His sheep.
God the Father can fully share our sorrow. Sometimes when death comes I’ve seen people cry in anger, “Where was God when this loved one died?” The answer—He was where He was when His son was being killed…and He understands the pain we feel—He’s been there. He can even handle our anger. He understands our distress more than anyone ever could. He may feel far away, and we may feel abandoned, but He is with us, in every dark valley.
Our Good Shepherd does more than lead us through the dark valleys of life. He leads us from despair to renewed confidence in His care. He doesn’t simply observe us from a distance; He is actively involved with the details of our lives. He leads us through the valley, because death is not the end of life. There is a life beyond the grave. Our Good Shepherd is preparing a place for all who believe. This place He is preparing for us is not free, however. It costs us nothing, but it cost Him everything. He paid for us with his own life. His sacrifice on the Cross frees us from condemnation; His blood washes away our guilt.
This familiar verse from the Shepherd’s Psalm doesn’t say that we led through the “valley of death” but the “valley of the shadow of death.” The substance of death—the awful dread and fear and uncertainty—has been removed, and only the shadow remains. This is why we who belong to the Good Shepherd can state with confidence, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
Death for the believer is deliverance from the pains, cares and sorrows of this world. In the meantime, while we live on this earth, the Shepherd is our Source of strength. His hand guides and sustains us in the darkest hours. The prophet Jeremiah in his lament for his people observes that “God may bring us sorrow, but His love for us is sure and strong” (Lamentations 3:2). We can accept adversity because the Shepherd is with us in the valley. The shadowed valleys of life can be the pathway to higher ground in our walk with God.
The closing book of the Bible assures us, “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our Shepherd; He will lead us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Revelation 7:17).
The basis of our hope is in the fact that our Shepherd died and is alive. The raising of Christ is the promise of our resurrection, our reason for hope in the midst of tragedy.
Growth often comes through trials. The testing of our trust in the dark valleys can result in renewed confidence and strength as we stand to face tomorrow.
Prayer: Gentle Shepherd, lead us from our pain to a sense of peace, and help us to trust You even when our eyes are filled with tears. Death submerges us in anguish and confusion. Yet in the midst of our dark valley You are there. Deliver us from our turmoil and help us to rely on Your strength during this time of loss. In Your thrice holy Name we pray, Amen.