Nancy and Susan, Carol, and all of Ray’s dear family, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is Psalm twenty-three. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”” (Rev. 14:13 ESV)
Ray Berkenbile is one of those people whom you don’t forget after meeting him. I’m sure that most of you know him far better than I did. I’ve only known him for about four years. I’m pretty sure that the first time I met him, he cracked a joke about not being able to get up to greet me. He always seemed to have a smile on his face, or a comment about whatever was happening in the news, or really whatever came to his mind. It was almost as if he didn’t know how difficult his life was! Now don’t get me wrong. There was a darker side to him, as there is to all of us. But he kept it pretty well hidden most of the time.
The reality is that his life was hard, both for him and for his dear wife, Carol. How many years have you been married? It’s a lot, I know. For most of his life, Ray struggled with the effects of polio, which he contracted as a fairly young man in his twenties. His life was a continual reminder of the effects of sickness and disease upon our bodies, and how sin just seems to, well, to mess everything up in our lives.
So it is in that context that we look at Psalm twenty-three, a Psalm taught to Ray by his mother when Ray was but a boy. You know the Psalm. Chances are you’ve heard it or prayed it your entire life, as did Ray. But I want you to look at this Psalm from the perspective of a man who spent most of his life in need of everything, even help breathing, at yet at the same time managed to always give to those who surrounded him.
Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
This Psalm is really about Jesus Christ, and it is about Ray, and you, and me, and all of God’s sheep scattered throughout the world. it is about the fact that we are broken and in need, that our lives are ones of receiving mercy and help from those around us, and maybe in some small way, helping others along the path. At the end of the day, though, it is about Jesus Christ, who went the way of death and the grave so that He could lead Ray through the valley of the shadow of death to life on the other side.
That’s really what the Easter season is all about, isn’t it? It’ about the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for Ray’s sins and yours, and mine. But Jesus Christ did not stay dead. He lay in death’s strong bands for three days, and then rose up from the dead. And He is alive even now, body and soul together.
And you know what? Ray will rise again, too. Now I don’t mean his spirit will rise, or that he is now free from his body, or such. Now, the promise of the Christian faith is that at the Last Day, Jesus will raise us up from the dead and give us eternal life. Hear again those great words from the book of Job.
Job 19:25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
At the Last Day there will be no polio or post-polio syndrome. There will be no more breathing tubes or bed sores. There will be no more sleepless nights, trying to get comfortable in a body that just does not want to behave. Ray will rise again, and his body will be like new, perfected and purified of every sin and evil. And things will be as they should have been all along.
But until then we wait, and we weep, and we hope. We wait for the resurrection, where we will be reunited with Ray and with all the saints who have gone before us in the faith. We weep, because we miss him, and because, well, because things are just not the same without his infectious smile and laugh. But we weep with hope, because in Christ, all things will be made new in their own time.
So until that day, Ray, rest well in Jesus Christ. Rest well, knowing that you are missed, and much loved, and that we will meet again at the Last Day. Rest well in the arms of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and we will meet again, very soon.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.