“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?“
The Psalmist, King David, penned down the words of the 23rd Psalm out of experience. I am sure he had gone through things that caused him to know the presence of the Shepherd who is faithful to be with us through it all. The Shepherd leads us to places of gladness and joy and rest. However, he also leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. He does not lift us away from it for death is the surest path for all humans. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need to kick fear out because he is with us.
I like to think of it as literally as I possibly can. Today I am seated in a funeral service penning down these words. My mind has raced through thousands of thoughts. May be hundreds. It doesn’t matter. They are many. Where is God through all this pain? If you’ve gone through the process of grief, you know this valley too well. Why now? Why him or her? These are moments where you wish a voice would speak from heaven like it did in Jesus’ day and say to you, “I am here my child.” But nothing is heard — all silence and gloom and tears and rubbles in the heart. As the songs of heaven are sung during a funeral (we have sung several here already) the members directly affected are lost in thoughts. I can tell that they’re going through the motions. I’ve been there somewhat yet I know it’s all different everywhere at every time.
So what’s this heaven like? Why does it come with so much pain and questions? Isn’t there a way of someone departing this world ‘joyfully’? I’m saying this because I also wonder. Can someone die and leave the friends, family and all-around happy without a trace of pain? Sadly, no! Why? Because our bodies and minds long to be clothed further, know deeper and live forever. Indeed this world is a passing breathe. Heaven must be a good place. I hear that’s where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are. I have also read that there is a place prepared for me and streets of gold make the roads. Well, I want to be there one day. I’m not sure if the how doesn’t matter but what a day of rejoicing that will be!
Away from heaven- we’ll get there one day. I hope you make it. Meanwhile, death has a terrible sting that sends chills down the spine. If that’s what you’re going through now, know that the shepherd has promised to be with you in the valley. Let’s explore the qualities of a valley:
Valley is a Low Land
A low land is a location on a geographical place that is below sea level. Usually dark and cold and without scenery or anything pleasant. When you add death to this description, then it’s not a place for anyone to be. Death is separation and darkness and gloom. For one to be in a low land that is full of gloom is depressing. I’m thinking of a cold, wet, dark and silent place! That’s horrific! But only if I’m there alone. Valley moments are hard. The valley of the shadow of death is not a fun place to be especially alone. We need a Shepherd with us so that every time that fear creeps in, we see him right by our side. Do you have a shepherd in the valley of life’s journey?
Between Mountains or Hills
Valleys are also found in between mountains or hills. Have you ever hiked before? If you have, then you can agree that the best spot is up on the mountains. The scenery and the air are fantastic. These mountains (good blissful moments) form the premise for the existence of valleys. In every High moment, there is a low moment. Every mountain has a valley, dear friend. These moments of ecstasy and joy are our opportunities for storing strength for the valley moments ahead. The God of the mountains is still the God of the valleys. Do you know this shepherd who is all around those who trust in him? Great shepherd of our souls.
Paul says that the perishable shall put on the imperishable. This is what death is all about for those who walk with the shepherd. Knowing that the great shepherd is with us gives us the confidence to face the valley. Death is a transition point from perishable to imperishable. Whatever questions you may have during the valley moments, understand that it’s just a door. One of the things the Shepherd helps us do is look straight in the eyes of Death Valley and speak victoriously. “Where is your sting?” How can one stare death in the face and mock it unless you have the Shepherd with you? Turn your eyes and heart to the Lord, our Shepherd. With him, we can walk down the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. More to that, we can say boldly, “Oh death, where is your sting? Oh Hades, where is your victory?” May you find hope through the valley of the shadow of death. Amen.