Recently I had the privilege to lead three memorial services in one week.
Two were in the community, and one was a memorial service for residents at a care facility attached to the hospital where I work as a chaplain.
I've long been drawn to Psalm 23 as a source of comfort in these times. It is often used at memorials, often printed on memorial cards.
The words are life-giving, familiar, and comforting. I also read them often at bedsides, and the familiar words ring with comfort to those who are dying, to the families who love them.
As I prepared for these services, two words came to mind, and so I spoke of them.
The first was the word PROVISION, which is quite appropriate as we enter into this week of thanksgiving in Canada. We are thankful for God's provision. The verses are clear... we shall not want, for we are provided for.
We are led by quiet waters, there is a place for rest, there is refreshment for our souls, we are guided. There is a table prepared for us, even in the presence of enemies. This speaks of provision through all of life... the peaceful times, and the challenging.
The second word that came to me was PRESENCE. The verse I cling to is verse four, where the psalmist says: "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
I never cease to be in awe that the Creator is like a Shepherd, and he wants my company! He is present with us. This is comfort. And as sheep need a shepherd, God wants to fill that need. In a shepherd's world, the rod and staff are tools of protection and guidance.
Which brings me to a third word, which I have to credit my Uncle John with. He is in my heart this week, because his beloved wife, our Aunt Lenora has gone to heaven after a very short battle with cancer. We grieve with him and their family!
He and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about this Psalm. He is a pastor, and had preached a sermon on Psalm 23 the day before we talked. And he shared with me a P word I had not thought of... it is PROTECTION.
For those in the midst of grief, this could be a conundrum. And yet, I believe it to be true. We are not promised a world without trouble or pain. Jesus himself said "In this world you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world."
Knowing we are loved deeply by the One who created us, who carries us as we allow it, who is Presence in this life, this is protection from evil as we also prepare for the life to come. We who are tethered to this earth can scarcely imagine it, but when a loved one slips away we think about heaven.
We think about being free from pain, of deep joy, of sweet communion with our loved ones. We think about God, and some envision God as a loving Heavenly Father, calling us home. Or Jesus as the tender Shepherd, carrying us.
So, three simple words: Provision, Protection and Presence. This has brought me much comfort in the last few weeks, and I believe has helped to bring comfort to those who grieve.