A few weeks ago I updated the instructions for my funeral. It definitely was time to do this, as a few of the priests I had suggested as homilists have left ministry to marry. Now please don’t worry or start celebrating, I am not sick and/or dying. Rather, priests of our Archdiocese are asked to plan their funeral so that if we should die suddenly there is clarity about our wishes and intent. It also helps our families who would otherwise be left with the unenviable task of trying to figure out what we would want in regard to our funeral. I think my instructions are fairly simple and when the time comes, I hope they will be honored. I just hope Johan can find the elephants for the procession on short notice.
It is a sobering task to plan one’s funeral. And I did shed a few tears in the process. If the truth be told, however, there was also a certain “rightness” to this task. It was very faith affirming. I say this because it reminded me that while funerals are a celebration of a person’s life, they are also — and from my perspective more importantly — an affirmation of our faith. For our faith calls us to believe that death is not the end; that because of Jesus Christ the promise and gift of eternal life is offered to all believers.
In one of the Prefaces (the prayer that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy) for the Mass of Christian burial we hear the words: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” I like the idea that at the time of death “life is changed, not ended.” For me this speaks powerfully not just of our belief in eternal life, but in the idea of the “communion of saints” —our belief in our fellowship in Christ, not only among us believers here on earth, but also between us and those who have died marked with the sign of faith. We don’t lose those who have died; rather our relationship with them takes on another dimension as we now share the life of Christ with them in a new way.
Certainly the time of death is a time of sadness and sorrow as we mourn the loss of someone who was a part of our lives. For believers, though, because of our belief in the promise of eternal life, it is also a time of hope and faith. On this great Feast of Easter as we remember and celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we also remember and celebrate his promise of eternal life which he offers to all those who believe in and seek to follow him. For it is the promise of eternal life that gives us comfort and consolation at the time of death, and hope as we continue our lives in faith.