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03 November 2013

Mass of Remembrance

The parishes in South Boston always host masses of remembrance during the first weekend in November.  We offer special prayers for all those who have died during the year and have been buried from one of the churches.  I have the privilege of breaking open God's Word at these liturgies this weekend.

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At baptism, we have water poured over our head.  At our funeral, we are sprinkled with holy water.  At baptism, we are covered in a white garment.  At our funeral, our body is draped with a white garment.  At baptism, our godparents receive a candle – the Light of Christ – lit from the Easter candle.  At our funeral, that same Easter candle stands in the front of the church, providing light in a time of darkness.  At baptism, we die with Christ and are reborn, spiritually.  At our funerals, we recall that we have died, once again, with Christ, and are, once again reborn. 

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All these symbols go together – they bookend our lives – because God does not make us for death, but rather, makes us for glory.  Baptism makes us new creations in Christ: so too is this reality affirmed by our funerals.  When Saint Paul wrote, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” he meant it!  Our baptisms prepare our own selves for life in and with Christ.  Remembering the dead reminds our own selves of where we’ve been – marked forever by the love of Christ – and where we are going – a place where we are even more deeply marked.   This mass of remembrance reminds us that there are many in our lives who can say along with Saint Paul, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Through our lives, we have run this race in so many ways: and we have not run it alone, but with all those we remember today.  This happened in ways big and small: “I love you,” hearing someone say it back, cleaning a scraped knee, having our scraped knee cleaned, making someone dinner, being fed: the list could go on and on.

In these memories is also sadness: knowledge that we have lost an important part of our lives in this past year.  To claim otherwise would be to tell ourselves a false truth, something to attempt us to get over it.  But today’s liturgy isn’t about getting over anything.  No: our faith and our remembrance today is actually about getting into something, delving so deeply into the reality of God’s love that it surrounds us, covers us, fills our lungs.  Or, put another way, today’s liturgy is about letting the love of God that helped Saint Paul run the race and helps us fight the good fight cover us once again.

The truth of the matter is that the connection between our baptism and our funeral and the baptism of a loved one and the funeral of a loved one touch on the same basic reality: we are born in baptism as one of God’s own and reborn through our funeral as one of God’s own.  When we say that someone has left this earth marked with the sign of the cross, what we actually mean is as Christians we do not go through our lives alone – at the beginning, middle or, end.  Because we are God’s people, because we are baptized, because we plunged into the tomb with Christ in baptism, we all come out again reborn.  Yet this process of rebirth isn’t just a one time event: rather, we spend our entire lives attempting to play it out, better understanding the love that God has for us in our lives as expressed through those around.

In the most basic sense, we are able to gather here today because we have already been promised something by God in our baptism: the never failing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as well as the never failing presence of the Holy Spirit in our deaths. That is the Christian message: that is the Good News.  Life in Christ never ends, even when our bodily life does.  We profess this at our baptisms and we profess it at our funerals.  We have died with Christ and so we live with him. 

To this day I have a distinct memory of the gathering at the cemetery after my grandfather’s funeral.  As my family walked away, my dad lingered near the site for just a minute and whispered: “good job, Pop.”

That’s why we gather here together today: to say the same thing in our own way to those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith: “good job.” 


But at the same time, we come here for encouragement, to be nourished so that we too may run our races, and, in doing so, hear the words at the end of our lives that all of God’s people long to hear: well done, good and faithful servant.

1 comment:

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