A prepared table
Funeral for Helen Kachichian
Psalm 23:1 A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
There is a saying that goes, “Life is short. Eat dessert first.” I wonder if that was a motto that Helen liked to live by. She seemed to really like her sweets – cookies, doughnuts, ice cream that is available every day at Primrose.
We have a 60-year-old member at Epiphany who is dying of mouth cancer. She can’t eat any solid food anymore. When I visited her last in her home, she told me that her two sons had just gone to get big hamburgers and fries at Dairy Queen the day before. She was stuck eating a milk shake. She said to me, “If heaven doesn’t have bacon double cheeseburgers, then I’m in the wrong place.”
My four daughters and I try to go running together. Not the kind of running like the Millers as they train for a half marathon. We just do a few miles. To be honest, I really dislike running. My motto is: “I run so I can eat.”
Food seems to be an integral part of our lives. But food isn’t just important to us. It is also important to God. At least twice in the 23rd Psalm, the author, King David, mentions food.
The first time is when David writes, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.” Green grass and quiet waters doesn’t seem like very tasty food – unless you are a sheep. … But if you are a Christian, that’s exactly what the Bible calls you! A sheep.
Helen became a lamb in her Good Shepherd’s flock at her baptism on December 3, 1933. That is when the pastor – who is the under-shepherd to the Good Shepherd – poured water and God’s Word over Helen’s head. In those baptismal waters, Helen’s sins were washed away, she was reclaimed from the devil and brought under the protective care of the rod and staff of the Good Shepherd.
In our church sanctuary at Epiphany, we have a large stained glass window above the altar. The window portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He is carrying a lamb in each arm with a flock of a dozen sheep around His feet.
On May 20, 1945, Helen stood before the altar at Epiphany to make her confirmation vows. God had promised to be faithful to Helen in her baptism. Now it was Helen’s opportunity to promise to be faithful to God following her confirmation. Though she, like the rest of us, was a sheep who liked to wander and stray, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who always goes out to seek and find His lost and straying sheep.
Throughout her life, the Good Shepherd provided for Helen’s every need – clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children – everything she needed to keep her body and life. More importantly, throughout her life, the Good Shepherd provided for Helen’s every spiritual need. He had redeemed her, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won her from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He did this, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
The Good Shepherd fed Helen weekly with His holy Word which Jesus describes as the Bread of Life. From her confirmation until her death, the Good Shepherd nourished Helen’s faith regularly with the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus fed her with His own body and blood.
As Jesus nourished Helen with Word and Sacrament, He then gave her the spiritual gifts that you came to know and love in her. These spiritual gifts are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Even though Helen dealt with so many health problems later on in her life, she dealt with that adversity very well. She always seemed to have a smile and a positive attitude. She displayed the gift of Christian joy to all who knew her.
She demonstrated patience and kindness in first taking care of her mom as she got older and then taking care of her husband as his health failed. She was very good at taking care of others. She didn’t seem to demonstrate the same patience as her health got worse and others had to take care of her. Yet, she had passed on her spiritual gifts of goodness and kindness to her children and grandchildren, as they took on the role of care-giver.
Helen’s sarcasm, sass, and one-liners was definitely a gift. I don’t know if it was necessarily a “spiritual gift.” I think that’s a gift she passed on to her children and grandchildren, as well.
Helen had a strong resurrection faith. That is a faith that she definitely passed on to her children and grandchildren. On Friday, Rich emailed me to say that Helen had been called home. I asked if the family wanted me to come over. His exact words were: “Thanks for the offer, Pastor, but Jenny is doing well. Faith is a great comfort and [Jenny] knows [her mom] is in a better place.”
That’s awesome! How can we have this kind of calm, confident faith, even in the face of death? Because we know our Savior who faced death for us and then was raised to life. Because we know our Savior/Shepherd doesn’t leave us in the dark valley of death but walks us safely to the other side. This is our comfort: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The Lord does more than take care of our needs for this life – He promises to bring us to everlasting life. The picture changes from God’s earthly care to the eternal blessedness awaiting all believers in heaven. The picture changes from being sheep being fed in grassy meadows to guests being fed in a banquet hall. The picture changes from Jesus being a shepherd to being a king. Ancient kings were often called the shepherds of their people; they were to use their power and resources to protect the people of their kingdom from enemies and provide for their people’s needs.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” The Lord is our Shepherd-King. He defeated the devil and all his demons. He destroyed the power that sin had over you when He took all sin upon Himself on the cross on Good Friday. He overcame death when He rose from the grave on Easter morning.
By faith in our Shepherd-King, we are the privileged people of His kingdom. God’s undeserved love is lavished on us like an abundant banquet. This feast is set right in front of our enemies … and they can do nothing about it. That’s because they are crushed, defeated, and overcome. Neither temptations, sorrow, suffering, the devil, not even death can touch us anymore when we are at the banquet feast of our Shepherd-King. These enemies are outside the gates of heaven looking in. They cannot touch us anymore.
In ancient times, guests were anointed with oil as a symbol of honor and joy of being in the royal court. Oil is poured upon the heads of Christ’s saints to heal and refresh. That oil poured over our heads at the end of our lives of faith are like the baptismal waters poured over our heads at the beginning of our lives as Christians. This oil marks God’s saints as His chosen ones.
While God’s saints are seated at the table, their cups have so many of God’s blessings poured into them that the cups overflow. God’s saints are now in the house of the Lord. They will dwell there for an eternity.
God promises that heaven for those who believe in His Son as their Shepherd, Savior, and King will be a very special place. It is a place that our Good Shepherd won for us by laying down His life for us.
There are a lot of descriptions of heaven. We will be in the New Jerusalem, the city of God. It will be filled with green pastures and quiet waters. We will be in the house of the Lord forever. God’s saints will be gathered around the throne singing their Savior’s praises.
It will also be a place where there is a prepared table. I don’t know if there is going to be a table filled with double cheeseburgers and lots of deserts. But I do know that Helen is sitting down to eat right now. She is seated in the place of honor … right next to her Good Shepherd. Amen.