HOMILY – 5 EASTER – 2017 – MOTHERS’ DAY John 14: 1-12
When a mother dies life changes for the family left behind. When the mother has children still dependent on her presence, her dying punches a big hole in their lives impossible to fill. Over the past two weeks I have been involved with the deaths of two mothers, both in their 50s and both with teenage children. The impact on these young lives has yet to be fully realised, but already it is apparent that, for them, life will never be the same. I remember Bernadette and Melanie and their families especially today, Mothers’ Day.
There was a third funeral this week. Herman was 86 and married for over 50 years to Joan who died two years ago. He lived only for the day they could be together again.
No priest looks forward to a funeral. It invariably touches the core of human existence and is charged with emotion. The priest’s own faith is tested as he tries to console and reassure, but mostly he just listens.
Sometimes the faith of those the priest seeks to comfort seems stronger than his own – and this proved to be the case in the three funerals I’ve mentioned.
The gospel passage I’ve just read was chosen by the families for each of these funerals and spoke strongly, but in different ways, of their own faith. When Jesus speaks of there being many rooms in his Father’s house and says, I am going away to prepare a place for you… his words tell of an unbroken connection between the life we know here and life beyond the grave. That there are many rooms would indicate that no one’s left out of heaven. And that Jesus himself is preparing a place –
There’s a homely feel about this image, and home is what we share with loved ones. On this Mothers’ Day I’m sure you’ll all be trying to make home peaceful and even tidy – ways of saying thank you to Mum. And while sadness still grips the homes of the families who have just lost their mother, the link that faith provides clears the darkness just enough to see Mum still caring, still close by.
How consoling it is, then, to be told there’ll be a room for us beyond this life; it’s very reassuring to know that I’ll be recognised as an individual, that my personality will be respected – just as my room at home lets me be myself, heaven will provide a way for me to recognise the home I never left and the person I became. I am going away to prepare a place for you…
But – there’s always a but – Jesus follows this reassurance with some clear directions for travel: I am the way, the truth and the life – and then – no one comes to the Father except through me. There’s an echo here of last Sunday’s gospel where Jesus describes himself as the gate to the sheepfold. We have to go through him to the welcome that awaits us. Jesus is our reference; his life speaks for us, opening the way for us. You don’t prepare for unwanted guests! Following Jesus means trying to make his qualities our own – we can’t expect to enjoy a room already totally decorated; we are to be part of the process.
Our second reading [1 Peter] calls us to be living stones, setting ourselves in line with the cornerstone that is Jesus. Mothers are the best people to understand this. They are the cornerstone of their homes, and they remain in place even when they die, supporting, encouraging, guiding. Yes, my faith is tested in funerals, but in the process it is also strengthened. And I know that the families who grieve today will pass the test of faith with the loving help of the very ones they miss. It is our care we give one another, the generosity with which we use our gifts for the building up of the body of Christ, that brings the final consolation and guides our steps to the home that awaits us.