The Valley of the Shadow

August 24, 2018

In the last few weeks, we’ve had a number of members of our church who have stepped across the valley of the shadow of death and have inherited the “crown of righteousness” that Paul suggested is laid up for those who are in Christ. In some cases, their deaths came suddenly, and unexpectedly. In other cases, it came at the end of a long struggle. In at least three of the cases, they had been members of the church for a long time and had played a huge part in the ministry of the church.

The other day in our Senior Staff meeting we were reflecting on this, and on other members of our church who had family who had gone on to glory. As we discussed these things, there was a kind of heaviness that hung in the room. It is not easy when people we care about die or have loved ones who have died. You hurt for them, but often don’t know what to do for them.

Later, after our Senior Staff meeting had ended I had a few minutes to be alone. My mind wandered and went back to our conversation and to the heaviness in the room. As I thought about it, all of a sudden, I began to feel a deep sense of gratitude. I started thinking about how our church seeks to respond when times of sorrow hit.

I thought about our Funeral Ministry. Often, at a moment’s notice the people who are a part of our funeral ministry go into action and help families prepare for the memorial service, provide encouragement at a time of deep pain and help make the services meaningful and smooth. All those who are involved are compassionate, empathetic, and caring individuals. In so many ways, the folks who volunteer for our Funeral Ministry are the hands of Christ to those who are hurting.

I thought about our Grief Support Group. Often, when we lose a loved one, we find ourselves struggling in ways we have never before experienced. I remember once visiting with a minister friend of mine whose wife had just died. I wanted to give him a chance to talk. He talked about how ironic it was that he, who had helped so many others during a time of grief, was now at such a loss for how to face his own time of sorrow. He spoke of having feelings that ran so deep and were so intense that he couldn’t always control his emotions. When we ended our conversation, he thanked me for the chance to share his feelings, and then said, “This is the first time I’ve had a chance to talk to anyone about what I have been feeling.”

This is part of what our Grief Support Group does. It gives people a chance to share, realize they are not alone in their struggle, and find encouragement for the days ahead.

Then, of course, I thought of the empty tomb. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have to face death with a sense of hopelessness. We can face it with the confidence that death is not an end, but a doorway into a richer, fuller, more meaningful life than we know; a life that Christ himself has gone ahead to prepare for us.

Personally, I’m grateful to be a part of a church that not only has a message of hope to declare, but works so hard to share that message with those who need it most.