And yet, the whole liturgy emanated hope. Each small candle was lit from the Easter Candle - a powerful reminder of the Risen Christ. He, too, suffered the consequences of death. He knew what it means to lose a loved one, and He Himself went through the experience of death. But the Easter story tells us that death does not have the last word. While not denying the pain of separation and the whole process of grief, the Resurrection of Jesus tells us that there is something greater beyond the coffin and the grave.
All this comes to mind as we move into the month of November, the last month of the liturgical year of the Church. Traditionally, November is known as the month during which we remember in a special way our departed loved ones. As Christians, we do not deny the reality of death, we do not pretend that nothing happened and everything is OK when someone dies. After all, Jesus’ death was not fake. But we journey on with hope. We know that those who died before us continue to live, albeit in a different way. And it makes, therefore, sense that we continue to pray for them as we believe that they pray for us.
This Sunday’s liturgy helps us further in this reflection on death and life. In the first reading we have the story of the seven brothers killed by the cruel king Antiochus. “You dismiss us from this present life,” says one of the dying brothers to the king, “but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.” The theme is picked up by the gospel reading presented to us. Upon interrogation by the Sadducees who, incidentally, did not believe in the resurrection, Jesus grasps the opportunity to teach his followers something about eternal life. Quoting the scriptures, which they knew very well, Jesus reminds them that God is referred to as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living.”
A beautiful and very important point is introduced by Jesus here. Our God is not a generic God, or a God of some theory or ideology. He is God of persons, of real human beings. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ is the God of Jane and Peter and Mary and Paul. God is God of each one of us. He longs to enter into a personal relationship with each one of us. And this, my friends, is the source of our joys and our hopes. This is where eternal life comes from.
The tears I saw during our Friday celebration, the pain re-lived during our Mass at the cemetery on Sunday, finds light, comfort and hope in our God who is Life.