The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
In what seems to many people today to be an arrogant claim, Christianity lays claim to the satisfaction of what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the Great Desire, the Escape from Death.” The Christian knows, as does that the author of Beowulf, “that man, each man and all men, and all their works shall die. A theme no Christian need despise.” Yet the Christian knows with certainty that death is not the end of man because the King of the Universe, Jesus Christ, is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
Saint Paul tells us today that Christ Jesus “has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:22). By the use of this uniquely Christian metaphor for death – falling asleep – the Apostle expresses the Church’s confidence that death is only temporary. It is a turn of phrase we have received from our Lord who said of the brother of Martha and Mary, “Lazarus, our friend, is sleeping; but I am going that I may awaken him from sleep” (John 11:11). He spoke these words when everyone knew Lazarus was dead and sealed in the tomb. Why?
By now it should not be a surprise that we can look to our great patron, Saint Augustine, for the answer:
He spoke the truth. To the sisters he was dead; to the Lord he was sleeping. He was dead to men who were unable to raise him up; for the Lord roused him from the tomb with such ease as you would not rouse a sleeping person from his bed. Therefore, as regards to his own power he spoke of him as sleeping…therefore every dead man sleeps, both the good and evil.
Just as those who sleep will awake from their slumber, so, too, will the dead be raised from death.
When the Lord Jesus rouses us from the slumber of death, when that mighty angelic trumpet resounds in our ears on the Last Day, our souls will be reunited with our bodies by the power of God (Matthew 24:31; I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:16). Our souls will be joined again to our bodies because
The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
If humanity is to live as God intended, the bodily and spiritual dualities of humanity cannot remain forever separated. When we stand with our physical bodies before the conqueror of sin and death we will look upon the Face of the One who alone can grant us the Great Desire can free us from death (cf. Psalm 23:1).
Christ in Majesty, BL Royal 2 A XXII, f. 14
The criteria upon which the Just Judge will judge us is the measure of his own love. He has bestowed great mercy upon humanity. He nourishes us with his own Body and Blood; he receives us into his open wounds not as strangers, but as friends; he clothes us the garment of salvation; he visited us when we were bound in sin and heals us of every ill. To put it perhaps more simply: he cares for our every need. We, in turn, must care for the needs of others; we are called to imitate the Lord in all things, including his Death and Resurrection.
You may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned that, “in memory of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.” While the ancient pagans cremated the bodies of their dead, the earliest Christians buried the bodies of their dead because the body of the Lord Jesus was lovingly placed in a tomb.
It may seem simplistic to say so, but Christian burial is a fuller imitation of the Lord than is cremation. “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.” The burial of the body is a reminder of the sleep of death from which we will all be awoken. This is why the Church recommends and prefers the bodily burial of her sons and daughters.
For most of her existence the Church denied a Christian burial to those who were cremated. The reason for this was simple: most of those who chose cremation did so to deny the resurrection of the dead. In more recent decades, however, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”
The cremated remains of a body should be treated with the same respect given to the human body from which they come. This includes the use of a worthy vessel to contain the ashes, the manner in which they are carried, the care and attention to appropriate placement and transport, and the final disposition. The cremated remains should be buried in a grave or entombed in a mausoleum or columbarium. The practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping the cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the Church requires.
If a Catholic chooses cremation, the Church recommends, but does not require, that it be done after the funeral Mass. If the cremated remains are present for the funeral Mass, “the covering of the cremated remains with a pall is omitted” as a way of encouraging the presence of the body, the sign of the resurrection that is to come.
The Church’s confidence in the resurrection of all the dead is born from “the Easter joy that does not stay silent or conceal the realities of pain, of suffering, of effort, of difficulty, of incomprehension and of death itself, but that can offer criteria for interpreting all things in the perspective of Christian hope.” Let us, then, turn to Christ the King and submit ourselves to his reign so that he who has power even own death will awaken us from that seeming sleep to the fullness of life itself. Amen.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, Christopher Tolkien, ed. (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006), 153.
 Ibid., The Monsters and the Critics. In The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, 23.
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on John, 49.9.1-2.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 362.
 Ad resurgendum cum Christo, 3.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2301.
 Order of Christian Funerals, 417.
 Cf. Order of Christian Funerals, 418.
 Order of Christian Funerals, 433.
 Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 28 November 2012.