My hearty congratulations to all of you! For your attention to detail, your striving for excellence, the kindness of your vision, the depth of your persistence, and the enthusiasm that you have ignited in Winchester. Well done! Congratulations too on blagging the Bible Society’s Psalm 23 garden, which I am so looking forward to seeing in its new home! 

This wonderful Psalm 23, which we sung a few moments ago, is undeniably the nation’s favourite. Written by King David about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, the former shepherd boy turned soldier turned King dared to use this stirring picture of a shepherd about his experience of the love of God. 

David had lived on the battlefield under the threat of imminent death. His poetic portrait of life in an uncertain, sometimes violent and terrifying world, still exudes the peace he experiences with God as someone close, generous, interested, and utterly reliable. A life where God is present at each moment of our lives, if we have the eyes to see Him. 

But he can’t be including death in his list, can he? 

I’ve sat by some grim, mechanical, soulless bedsides in my time attempting to comfort the dying. So have you. Too many people have died alone, neglected, or simply processed. Parked once it was clear that they were beyond treatment. Their spiritual, and personal needs eclipsed. Their families and friends respected in the moment but not brought into the heart of their care or healing. Their last days were lost days. 

This Psalm gives us the most inspiring Care Plan – the way our loving and gracious God wants to love us. And for all of us called to the hands on work of compassion and care, it is the most wonderful, stretching and deeply satisfying way to do so. 

Step One is to make sure the ones we care for lack nothing. Clearly this doesn’t mean gold-plated taps in every room! Mind you, I’ve seen the baths at the Hospice and they are way cooler than having blingtastic taps! People lacking nothing means an attention to detail, a thoughtfulness about their overall needs. And I know you have that taped already! 

Step two is to provide quiet waters. Places of beauty, serenity and peace, that refresh the soul, that deepest, most personal, often shy centre of each one of us. The Garden will be a small part of that. We pray that you will be an oasis for the soul of many patients and their loved ones. 

The third step is comfort, specifically, intimate companionship in the face of death. It is the caring, loving presence of another that David describes as the antidote to the paralysing, very real, and completely understandable human fear of death. With the myriad demands on your energy, may you have the grace to bring such loving companionship to many. 

The fourth step is hospitality. Did you know that you are now the leading figures in Winchester’s hospitality industry? Our English words hospital, hotel, hospice, host, all have the same route meaning. David’s experience of God was of thoughtful, surprising and generous hospitality – a table laid, his head anointed with oil, which is ancient speak for a restorative head massage. Maybe it’s already on your list of treatments? This lavish hospitality also opens up the question of reconciliation with those we have fallen out with. May you be a place where peace is found and made! 

And the last step is the sharing of hope. Generations of Christians have drawn hope in the face of death from the ending of this powerful psalm;  

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

It’s echoed with even greater depth and clarity in the New Testament, in a passage we often read at funerals. I’ve read these words countless times with tears of grief and joy: 

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

As a Christian, I have hope because I believe Jesus knows the horror and despair of a lonely death better than I do. I have hope because I believe that Jesus, in his resurrection from the dead, has proved beyond doubt the depths of his redeeming love for us. May you be a reservoir of hope for many, many people, however close or far from death they are. 

So, there’s God’s Care Plan – for each one of us. It’s what I need, each and every day. And it’s a wonderful Care Plan for you  to borrow and use in your devoted labours of love. 

I believe that lacking nothing, quiet waters, comfort, hospitality and hope aren’t expensive luxuries but beautiful necessities. The good news is that the city of Winchester thinks so too! 

God bless you all.