Most of the funerals I've done have included Psalm 23 and so my talk has developed with each one. This is where it is currently, having added to it from my 1 Corinthians 13 talk:
The writer of this poem from the Bible is no stranger to difficulty. He talks about being in the presence of his enemies and of walking through the darkest valley. Sometimes this darkest valley is called the valley of the shadow of death.
This is a place where he might be scared of what could happen, a dark place where he cannot see what is ahead of him, a place that seems without hope. Today many of us here may feel as though we are walking through the dark valley from the poem, as we try to come to terms with the loss of someone so very dear to us.
But the writer won’t be afraid and he won’t lose hope because he knows God is with him. The picture here is of God as a shepherd, with the writer of the poem as the sheep. The shepherd at the time this was written, would live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day in order to care for them. He was accountable for their welfare, for their protection and the provision of everything the sheep needed. So like the sheep experiences the care of the shepherd, the writer experiences God’s faithfulness. Even when he is walking through a dark place, a place of difficulty, God does not abandon him, he is with him, providing everything he needs. He knows that God will lead him to places where he can be refreshed, where he can eat and drink and sleep; places where he is safe.
Later in the Bible, when people met Jesus, they recognised him as the good shepherd, caring and faithful. He brought hope of life beyond death; a hope for healing and a future. This is not a fool’s hope, a desperate wish for something better, but a promise made by one who knows us and loves us from before we were born to the last breath we take and beyond.
This promise of God is that we are loved with such ferocity that, through Jesus, he has overcome death itself. Death is no longer the end for us and instead, we are offered the hope and joy of eternal life.
Right at the end of the Bible, we are offered a wonderful picture of the future when this promise is fulfilled – a future when there will be no more illness, no more death, no more tears, no more goodbyes, no more dark valleys, when God will have come to make his home with us.
Today, we are very much aware that that time has not yet come. So, until then, we can be assured that N is safe with the God who loves her; that all the precious moments we recall today are a foretaste of that glorious future; and that you are not alone. God, the good shepherd is with you and will not abandon you.