IN LIFE, IN DEATH – STAYING IN TOUCH
HOMILY – 32nd SUNDAY [A] 2017
As the family was moving away at the end of a recent burial ceremony, a small boy who had followed the proceedings with great interest suddenly became alarmed and asked, Are we leaving auntie here? He’d seen the casket being lowered and had joined others in dropping flowers into the grave, but he hadn’t sensed the finality of it all. I think it was his grandmother who said to him, Auntie’s now an angel; she‘s not down there anymore. The boy got excited then – Oh good! Auntie’s an angel!
We can learn so much that is good and positive from little ones. This lad instinctively knew there was more to come after “auntie’s burial”. Life cannot possibly just disappear in death. There has to be more! There is wisdom here, in the reaction of this little one – found so often in unexpected places – alluded to in our first reading: (Wisdom) walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go [Wisdom 6:12-16].
St Paul builds on this when he advises Christians not to mourn like people who have no hope. None of us can escape grief – it is a natural and necessary response to loss, especially the loss of those we love. But if your grieving detaches you from your faith – or, if your faith is just a thin veneer that peels off with the slightest tug – then loss becomes unbearable, pointless, cruel, even unjust, and anger, bitterness, resentment can quickly take its place.
This weekend also includes Memorial Day – a time for the world to remember those who gave their lives in times of war. There is gratitude here for what their sacrifice meant. They give us reason to keep hoping and working for respect and peace, not only between individuals but also nations.
A gospel reading often chosen for a funeral is John 14, with Jesus telling us there are “many rooms in my Father’s house.” Another is from the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the banquet awaiting those who die in the Lord. These are themes of security and comfort. They relate to homecoming and help reinforce hope – and show the importance of “home” as a place of support and friendship, where we should learn the value of sharing and of hospitality.
In a real home there is always more than enough, and even a stranger is welcome. Home is where I want to be more than anywhere else. We can learn more about heaven at home than at church – if home reflects the presence of the One who teaches that heaven is a home.
But each of us knows that no home is ideal, and no one is perfect. We learn more from hindsight than foresight and wisdom often comes too late! So, while faith enables us to hope, it also brings us to pray for ourselves and our beloved dead. The gospel parable about the bridesmaids who didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps and missed out on the banquet offer us an image that can help us in our prayer:
I believe our prayer for one another can help fill up what is lacking in our readiness to meet God. Perfection comes slowly and I can put many obstacles in its path. My prayer for those who have died helps top-up their oil flasks. Darkness cannot compete with lamps fully lit. Bathed in light, God has no difficulty recognising his children, assuring their entry to the wedding feast!
Our tradition of honouring the memory of those who have died especially during this month of November, is precisely because we do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We remain connected and important to one another; we can help them complete their journey into the presence of God – and, when our turn comes, they are there to help us.