May 10, 2017
Valley, Shadow, Death
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Psalm 23:4a
This familiar verse from the beloved “shepherd’s” psalm brings great comfort as we look ahead to the inevitable conclusion of life: death. “Even though”, not if, means we will walk through that valley, but also implies something positive in the midst of the valley of death and other low places through which we walk. “Through” means that we don’t linger or encamp in the valley, but that we pass through it. “Shadow” means that it is not all dark. Where there is a shadow, there is also light. The Light with us is Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
The current Lutheran Witness theme is the persecution of Christians around the world. Many are being killed for their faith, as was St. Stephen, the subject of one of the readings for next Sunday. As it has been from the beginning, is now, and will increasingly be in the future, the valley of the shadow of death is a reality for any who follow Christ. Peter, writing about persecution, told the church not to be surprised by it. Jesus told us that a disciple is not above the master. If they persecuted Christ, why would his followers be exempt? Expect it.
Whether death is by disease, accident, or intentional persecution, it is something we can always be ready to face if we remember two things:
1) Jesus died. In that death God signaled that though our sins separate us from Him, Christ reconciled us to Him. Death no longer brings the fear of eternal separation from God. The cross means that God has forgiven us for past, present, and future sins.
2) Jesus rose from the dead. He said, “Because I live, you too will live.” If we die with him in repentance, then we will live with him in the resurrection.
I recall two vacations in which our family entered a cavern. On my own, I would not have ventured in. However, the guide who was leading us had been in and out of the cave many times. I could be confident that with him, I would walk through that valley of darkness. Since Christ has entered death and come out on the other side, we can trust him to take us through it when it is our time to walk that valley.
May God so comfort you that there is no fear of death, but only gratitude that it’s a short walk into the darkness until we get to the Light on the other side.