24 February 2008

Funeral Homily

There seemed to be some interest in my posting the funeral homily I preached yesterday and so I will post the homily, though without the name of the deceased.

The readings for the funeral were Isaiah 25:6a, 7-9; I Corinthians 15:51-57; and Matthew 5:1-12a.

So very often in his earthly ministry, Jesus went up the side of a mountain - as he does in today’s Gospel - to teach his disciples. He still sits as a teacher today and teaches us from the mountainside about death and about life.

It is here on this mountain at which we have gathered - here at this sanctuary of the Lord - that “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever,” (Isaiah 25:6-8).

Like so many of his followers before, we have gathered here at this mountain with confused emotions and mixed feelings. There is something about Jesus that continually draws us toward him; there is something different about him, about the words he speaks, he teaches with authority and by loving example, and so we know his words to be true. We have seen his power and we have experienced his love. For this reason we follow him and in our grief we come here to this mountain that he might teach us, that he might comfort us, that he might give us peace.

Jesus sets before us the characteristics of one who seeks to follow after him and share in his glory. All who follow Christ are called to conform their lives to his. It was Jesus who became poor for us; it was Jesus who mourned for Jerusalem; it was Jesus who showed us the beauty of being meek; it was Jesus who spent countless days fasting for us; it was Jesus who brought the infinite riches of the mercy and love of the Father for us through his death on the cross. He calls us to follow him in all things and, having done so, we “will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

His children are born from the waters that flow from the pierced side of Christ. Entering into the sacred waters, all who are baptized die with Christ and rise from the waters in newness of life, receiving the promise of the resurrection of the body on the last day.

As N. was baptized into his death and resurrection, so we sprinkled his body with holy water to call to mind the promise of eternal life he received from the Lord.

At our baptism we were clothed with Christ and received the pure and spotless garment as new creations cleansed of our sins. We return to N. this morning his baptismal garment to present to the Lord when he meets him face to face.

It is right that we come here to the Lord and that we bring N. with us. We, in our love and in our grief, present him to the Lord and ask him to again show his mercy and love to N. that he may share in the eternal banquet of the Lord. At the same time, we beg the Lord to give us comfort and strength in this time of sorrow and to increase our faith and hope in the resurrection of the dead.

As we mourn the death of N., let us take consolation in the words of the prophet Isaiah: On this mountain, “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8).

Here on this mountain, here on this altar, the Lord Christ will again come to us. The Lord will come to us in the Eucharist and will say to us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Receiving his Body and Blood we will share in the foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Here on this mountain, in the Holy Eucharist, we hear the words as if trumpeted from heaven: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!” (Isaiah 25:9). He has indeed saved us and he will come to us.

As we gaze upon our Lord in the Eucharist and receive his Body and Blood we call to mind not only his own words but also the words of St. Paul who said, “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Corinthians 15:52).

Because of Christ’s triumphant victory over sin and death on the cross, we can mock death with Paul, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting” (I Corinthians 15:55)? For those who share in the death and resurrection of Christ, death has no more power. Death is not the end, but is rather only the beginning to life with God for those who have been changed into Christ. One day we all shall be raised from the dead and, if we have lived a life worthy of him, we shall live with the Lord forever.

At the end of our earthly lives, what matters is our fidelity to Christ, the way in which we loved God and neighbor. Everything else passes away. In the face of death life acquires a new meaning, a new purpose.

At the end of life, death deprives us of all that is earthly, but not of that Grace and sacramental “character” by virtue of which we are indissolubly associated with Our Lord and Savior’s Paschal Mystery. Emptied of all but clothed in Christ: thus do the baptized cross the threshold of death and are presented to the just and merciful God.[1]
Thus do we present N. to the Lord today as we ask him to open wide the gates of Paradise to his servant.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 4 November 2006.

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