Frances writes a Homily on Death :- In the age in which we live, it can be very difficult to believe in anything except the material and the scientifically provable – or so we like to think. We think that the world is full of human beings who might, for some entirely explainable reason have the odd ‘spiritual’ experience, one we can’t quite account for in our understanding of life, just through our lack of knowledge. However, one writer has suggested that we are all really spiritual beings having human experiences. Think of the love a father has for his small child. It far transcends mere chemical reaction or rational thought and behaviour. It might equally be love for one’s partner, or the effects on us of great drama or music or a painting. How can we possibly explain being moved to tears by a sunset or cast into the depths of despair by a play written by an ancient writer who lived three thousand years ago? Such experiences take us out of the material and the mundane into a totally different way of perceiving our lives, and the spiritual and human natures we are born with.
These extraordinary experiences come to all of us, quite regardless of whether we are rich or poor, well educated or deprived of schooling, and they transcend different cultures and times. Far from believing that we are simply human beings, we must recognise that we are actually spiritual, through and through. And this is surely what we should be proclaiming today at any Funeral for a Christian.
We do not pretend that the person was in any way an exceptional human being, or that they achieved great things, for they probably did not. What we are doing is affirming that their life through and through was wrapped in God, in the spiritual. This is in fact nothing to do with what they are like, loveable or not; good or wicked; funny or miserable; pious or otherwise; it is about how they continually, year by year, day by day said their prayers however simple, and believed in the love and grace of God. They did this especially by receiving Holy Communion on a regular basis, but also every time they prayed which explains how important it is that friends and family do what they can to enfold the dying person in that relationship with God which they will later enjoy fully in eternal life.
In the Gospel of St John Chapter 6, Jesus speaks of the significance and meaning of the Eucharist. This was a great surprise to his followers and a scandal to the Jews. How can it possibly be that a formula of words and actions, passed down over the generations, and relating to one human being who was executed 2000 years ago, can give what he said it would give – eternal life? Surely, the passing of time and the different interpretations of the ages would have dulled any possible significance it might have? And yet, day by day, year in and year out ,Christians all over the world, and down through the centuries, have deliberately chosen to follow these instructions from Jesus, as THE way we enter into the great and enduring experience of God which he left us. Meeting God in the Eucharist can of course be an empty experience, if we resolutely refuse to let the risen Christ into our lives through its words and actions, just as we can refuse to respond to the love of others; but it can, and does enter into us when we are open to its surprising language and ideas. We will never fully understand what is happening but simply allow ourselves to be taken up into the mystery which it bestows. Just as caring for a small child can be dull and boring, hard work and apparently unrewarding, or can be an enriching experience, so too our meeting with God in Holy Communion can form a deep and growing bond with the divine, precisely because that is what He promised us it would do.
It was in the strength of this experience that St Paul was able to proclaim with absolute conviction his certainty of the love of God. His Letter to the Romans stands as Paul’s great summing up of his life’s work as a Christian evangelist, and his unshakeable conviction that in Christ everything about him was assured of a good and positive outcome, even when he was faced with persecution and imminent death. Paul, devout Jew and persecutor of the Church, and later hounded by Jewish authorities and the Roman imperial power, could in the end assert his absolute reliance on the life and death and resurrection of someone he might only have seen once from a distance in Jerusalem, but who became the very light of his life; the meaning of his existence. And so it became his proud claim, even as it is fo every Christian, as we await the death that will come to each one of us. “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, not any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)