The Lord is my Shepherd

Marianne Rozario has recently published a report for the Theos Think Tank entitled “Ashes to Ashes” on attitudes towards dying, death and the afterlife in Britain. She says the way we mark death is changing especially in the decline of traditional funeral services. Only 23% of funerals are now conducted in the Church of England, a decline of 50% since 1999. Research by Co-op Funeralcare shows that only 1 in 10 people in Britain now want a religious funeral of any kind. These statistics highlight the failure of many churches to connect with people, especially the younger generation.

Today, most funerals are led by a civil celebrant and reflect the unique personality, values and preferences of the person who has died. One celebrant in the survey said, “I have done funerals in village halls, in back gardens, in very nice country house hotels, in a car showroom and one when we walked around a field looking at posters with different aspects of the guy’s life.” These “celebrations of life” give little thought to what happens to the mortal remains of the deceased after death or to their immortal soul. It seems some people agree with Marlene Dietrich’s counsel of despair when she said, “When you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it.”

Yet, the Theos survey reveals that many of the celebrant-led funerals incorporate spiritual or explicitly religious elements and refer to “going to a better place.” This confirms the truth of what the Bible says, “He has planted eternity in the human heart.” We need help in coping with our grief. Even when we don’t have a personal faith, we hope that all is well with our loved ones who have died and that one day we will see them again. Many families also want Psalm 23, written by King David, and “The Lord’s Prayer” taught by Jesus, included in otherwise secular services.

It is no surprise that people find comfort and help in the Bible, which is God’s eternal Word to all people in every age. In Psalm 23 David speaks of his personal relationship with the Lord, who is his Shepherd. The Lord cared for all his needs in this life and would be with him even when he “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” So, as he faces death David was not afraid because the Lord was with him. When we know the Lord as our Shepherd, we have confidence for the future; “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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