The Lord is my Shepherd – Compassion and Hope at the End of Life

A scripture reflection for Day for Life focusing on compassion and hope at the end of life.

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There is an urgent need to recover a different perspective on life as a whole from that which is common in modern society. This different perspective can be found in Scripture. It begins with seeing life as a gift as we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and ends with death as the beginning of eternity. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). 

Neglect to care for the sick and vulnerable is seen as a crime in scripture: The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up…” (Ezekiel 34:4) while Tobit is noted for faithfully continuing his charitable acts including burying the dead, at real risk to his own life. (Tobit 1:16-18). Jesus did not walk away from the sick – young or old. Mark 5:40-41 tells us that Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter when he “…took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha cumi’, which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’” 

The elderly are revered in the Bible. Elizabeth and Zechariah bore John the Baptist in old age (Luke 1:18). While elderly Simeon, who had long awaited the Messiah blesses God and proclaims the Nunc Dimittis to the baby Jesus (Luke 2:29). At Simeon’s side is Anna, an 84-year-old widow and prophetess, who praised God and spoke of the child as the one to redeem Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38). 

Nicodemus, a highly regarded member of the Sanhedrin, was elderly when he visited Jesus by night in order not to be seen. He appeared again at Jesus’ death, bringing a mixture of myrrh, aloes and linen for his burial as he helped lay Jesus in the tomb. (John 19:38-40). The service of the Gospel has nothing to do with age! 

In this light, all of life matters. Whether long or short, and regardless of its perceived value and contribution as measured by secular society. Life is, in every phase, a meaningful preparation for God’s everlasting embrace. Therefore, each stage has its own beauty and worth, and its own tasks. This life should not be lived in fear of being shortened against one’s will. Confident in God’s goodness and mercy, our faith like the Psalmist, should proclaim that “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.” (Psalm 23:4). 

It is important not to lose sight of this approach when we reflect on end-of-life care for the increasing number of people who are either living longer or who are vulnerable in our communities. In spite of huge advances in medicine, technology and wellbeing, our societies are commodifying life itself and prioritising who receives which kinds of treatments and for how long. This is presented as enabling personal choice and control over one’s body, and of helping to reduce pain. But there is no shame in vulnerability and dependency as taught by Jesus to Peter: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18). When the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled and the dying are discarded or not properly cared for, it undermines the wisdom and compassion that we can learn from one another and it violates our relationship with God.  

 The vulnerable and the dying, whether young or old often need palliative or end of life care. These must include medical, spiritual, psychological and human assistance. These do not imply a focus on healing people who are beyond healing but, at the same time, their care should not be diminished as they journey towards their death. “Not being cured” should not be replaced with “not being cared for”. The most vulnerable who may not be able to speak or express their needs require our particular attention as they cry out: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” (Psalm 71:9). They must be accompanied in their suffering and in their dying, rather than their death be provoked or facilitated.  

Our faith helps us to face death by presenting it in the light of Christ’s resurrection. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4). 


Resources were created to enable parishes to highlight and pray for Day For Life. Included the Day for Life 2024 Message and Prayers.

Day For Life 2024 – Resources