This sermon was preached at the funeral of Vi Lamb, beloved member of St. John and St. Mark Episcopal Church.
Though I walk
through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
If you were to come here for any service between March 1st and April 15th – and if you were here yesterday – it looks different in this space. The cross with Christ the King behind the altar would be veiled in a deep red linen, the processional cross would be veiled in a deep red linen, the altar would be decorated with a burlap cloth, we would be using clay vessels for communion, and we wouldn’t even dream of saying the word “alleluia” in the service or music.
During the season of Lent, we remove or obscure all of the trappings in order to direct our focus toward Easter, to prepare to go with Christ to the cross on Good Friday and wait in hopeful anticipation for the Resurrection.
But not today.
Today, in the midst of grief and loss, we proclaim with all the trappings and alleluias of Easter the defeat of death and the triumph of the Resurrection. Today, we proclaim that, for Vi, life is not ended; rather, it is transformed. In the face of death, we sing Resurrection and Life.
Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd, that he does not abandon his sheep because, unlike hired hands, his sheep belong to him. Jesus tells us that he knows his sheep, his sheep know him, and they know his voice.
For almost 98 years, Vi heard the sound of the voice of her Good Shepherd. She grew accustomed to his voice and knew its sound and cadence. She heard his words in Scripture, and she met him at the table he set before her, where she was fed by the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Here, she was known by her Good Shepherd, here she grew to know him, and here she continued to grow into that blessed identity of being his own – a sheep of his own fold, a Lamb of his own flock.
But the Good Shepherd also lays down his life for his sheep. Where the hired hand would abandon the sheep in a time of danger – in the valley of the shadow of death – the Good Shepherd does not abandon us, and indeed has not abandoned our dear sister. Jesus has walked through that valley before us, clearing a pathway for us, and calling us through toward Resurrection and Life. Jesus has endured death, laid down his life for his sheep so that, having taken up his life again in Resurrection, he might lead his flock through that valley.
So today, Easter breaks into our regular observance of Lent. It shines its Resurrection light, and, even as we mourn the loss of our sister, we remember the covenant of God in the face of death: that God has not abandoned us to the grave, that God does not leave us wandering in the valley, that our Good Shepherd goes with us and has gone before us, and that he calls us to life abundant.
That voice that Vi has heard and followed her whole life now calls her through death toward resurrection, and the Good Shepherd will lead her into life, and life abundant. Amen.