I just got back from my mentor/boss' mother's funeral, and something struck me as I watched my boss do the ceremony. (Well, besides being amazed that she was able to do the service without completely breaking down-- I don't think I could ever do my parent's ceremony!) Certainly, most of us expect Psalm 23 to show up somewhere in most funeral services-- if only because we like the imagery of green grass and still waters. But the thing that resonated with me today was what an extraordinary anchor that passage has become for almost everyone. As she began to read the familiar passage, I watched as old and young alike began saying it to themselves. Not because they were expected to, because no one suggested that it be a community reading. But the truth of the matter is that that passage will always be community property. As I watched all of these people quietly reciting the cherished words of comfort, I looked around and realized that most probably weren't even thinking of the particular woman whose life we were celebrating today. Instead, they were remembering all the deaths and times of great turmoil that together made up their life-- and the times these words of promise had held them, even when nothing else could.
Though certainly there were several translations, most people were expectedly reciting it from the King James version-- something they had probably been taught as babes, kneeling on a cold floor. Sure, I love the familiarity of those words too-- but when the time comes, I hope someone will read at least the last lines of the passage from "The message", which says "Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life."
But then again, the thing that makes this passage such an anchor is the familiarity of the words-- perhaps the new words would not have the same power for a grieving community. There is something to be said for having words that your heart has memorized-- because sometimes, those are the only words you have.