A funeral is a jarring event, especially for middle class Americans. Death is not our constant companion as it is in third world or war torn places. Many of us can go months or even years without being touched by the death of someone near or dear to us. Death is not something we easily talk about, it is considered to be a ‘depressing subject’ and is actually avoided by some people.
Yet here we are. Death is real. The process of dying is painful and grace filled. Death raises questions and challenges us to provide answers. What is the answer to the mystery of death? It depends on where you look.
We can Look at the deceased. Death is loss and letting go. We can find ourselves wishing our loved one were here or even looking for them for a brief moment. The reality of their absence takes time to settle in. We can forget and start to dial their number and then it hits us…0Where is he? What is she doing right now? What is “the place” they are in like? We do not know, we can only speculate, but we hand them over to Jesus with trust and hope.
We can Look at the past. Death closes the book on our lives. The deceased one’s life is now captured in memories. The past provides us with happy memories and perhaps some regrets. We can learn to “do it better” from our memories. We can also be grateful for all God has given.
We can Look at the loss. For some the pain at this time takes precedence. We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with pain, sadness and emotion. Crying has a function, there is a reason why we cry. It is built in to our nature by God. Medicine and denial may mask the pain, but they do not heal it. So perhaps it is healthy, even holy. After all, it is recorded that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. So do yourself a favor and cry.
We can Look at Jesus. Hanging dead on the cross we remember that He suffered and He died and in the Incarnation God has sanctified not only living but also dying, not only happiness but also loss and suffering. Therefore, what we do at funerals includes looking to the hidden face of God. It consists of prayers for forgiveness, we are sinners, prayers of thanksgiving, we are blessed, and prayers for healing mercy, for we are all broken and in need of the love and peace of God.
And God, while invisible, can still be seen. In and through the church--called the Body of Christ by St. Paul--Jesus is present among us. So we can also LOOK around at friend and family, fellow pilgrims on this life journey.
The Holy Spirit is here to fill us with wisdom and understanding, compassion and love. To use this time to reconcile us to one another and to teach us to share one another’s burdens. To fill us with the Life of Jesus, a life more powerful than death, a life which is a promise of resurrection, not just for the ones we have lost, but for anyone who gives themselves to Him in trusting faith and loving obedience.
So we must also look into our own hearts and determine if we are prepared for our own time of passing; and if not, we need to make choices right now which will bring us to the new life in Jesus.
this was reworked from a recent homily