Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine – Grant them eternal rest, O Lord

We are all very familiar with the saying that there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes. What a true expression: Taxes are not very pleasant to think about, and death even less so. But, we know, deep down, that death must be accepted as an integral and inescapable part of life. Death accompanies us through life, as we face the passing of loved ones and friends, and come, each of us, to face our own mortality. So on this day, All Souls day, the Church pauses to reflect on the meaning of our death.

What happens to us when we die? It is such a common question when we are children, but we soon grow away from asking the question openly, but it still is within each of us. Back, two or three decades ago, there was a rather silly joke that was going around: “What do you call an atheist in a coffin?” The answer is of course, “All dressed up and nowhere to go”. It’s bad joke I admit, but it does provide a starting point in considering some answer to the deep questions we have about death: “Where do we go?” “Are the dead at rest? At peace?” “Are they happy?” “Will I ever see them again?”

We have all had these questions raised within us, especially as we have mourned the death of a loved one, or even as we attend the funeral of an acquaintance. For the occasion of a death leaves us with a mixture of deep feelings: grief and sadness, naturally, but also confusion, doubt, fear and loneliness.

Our readings tonight speak into those feelings which may still be very live for us - they are what someone once called, words against death - the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God. No torment touches them. They are at peace. We need not worry too much about those whom we love but see no longer because of death, for God’s loving care for us extends even beyond the grave. We are still held by God in his arms, in peace, for ever, and that God offers each one of us, not just life in the now, but an assurance of Resurrection life now and for eternity, when we place our faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Tonight as we gather, missing those whom we love and praying for them, we hear again of the loving and eternal embrace of God for us all in life, in death and into eternity.

An elderly woman who was a very active and a faithful member of her parish years was dying, and she asked for the priest to come to her bedside that they might talk about her funeral. She said, “Father, when I am laid out in my casket, I want my rosary in one hand and a fork in the other”. The priest was caught by surprise: “You want to be buried with a fork?” “Yes. I have been looking back at all the church dinners that I have attended over the years. I remember that at all those meals, when we were almost finished, someone would come to the table to collect the dirty dishes, and usually they would say, ‘Keep your fork’. That mean that dessert was coming. When they said that, I knew the best was yet to come! That's exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral”. When people see me in my casket, I want them to turn to one another and say, “why the fork?” And, Father, I want you to tell them I kept it because the best is yet to come”.

For Christians, our life’s journey is towards towards God and the promised eternal banquet of the Messiah - a celebration in the presence of God and his Son Jesus Christ forever. We are called live our lives in joyful hope and anticipation of that promised life that is ours now and in the future, through Him. That fullness of life with God, that hope that is offered to each of us by God, promised in the resurrection of his Jesus, is glimpsed here in this Eucharist tonight. For as we eat bread and drink wine, we don’t just recall Jesus, but we remember Him. Through Him being with us as we worship Him, the veil between earth and heaven is specially thin. When we join in the song of the angels in heaven “Holy, holy, holy...” I'm certain that if we cannot hear the angel voices, it is only that we aren't listening hard enough....but today, as we gather to remember our own beloved dead that great community is closer than ever.

From the perspective of eternity, that barrier which we call death is non existent...Where there is no time, no past, present or future, then there can be no endings or beginnings.

We pause to remember and to pray for those whom we love but see no longer, knowing that the ties that connected us in life, that made us pray for them and they for us are not broken. Standing in God's closer presence, I know they are praying for we for them, and knowing that, for those whom we love but see no longer, and for us, the best is yet to come.

With heartfelt thanks to @Eurobishop and @Goodinparts for inspiration and input into this homily

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