Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 13B
“The child is not dead but asleep.” Since its beginnings, Christianity has spoken of death in terms of sleep. This can be a little confusing at times. I remember reading in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and one of the first permanent deacons, and coming to the end of the passage after his last words, it says simply that he fell asleep. I remember thinking, “Well that doesn’t sound so bad. He’s just taking a little nap. He was probably tired from all his long-winded preaching.” And in one of the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass, when we pray for “those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,” it is hard for me to keep from imagining to myself those who have starting dosing in their pews.
So why do we, as Christians, speak about death as if it were like sleep? We find the answer in today’s readings and in the alleluia verse: “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” The Son of God who is life itself, “though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” As God, He was immortal and undying, so He became man, so that He would be able to suffer death for our sake and conquer death by his Resurrection. Ever since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that death is only temporary. In that sense, death is like sleep. We know as Christians that even if we die, we will rise again, we will awaken to God’s judgment and His eternal reward or eternal punishment. Each of us has such a short time on this earth in view of eternity, and some just have a slightly shorter time than others, but all are alive to God and present in his sight.
Still, this often seems very small consolation in the face of real tragedy. I still remember the first time that I really had to come to terms with death. Growing up, I had this sense that God was always protecting me and my family and those close to me and that nothing really bad could ever happen to us, and for a long time that seemed to be the case, and I never experienced the death of anyone I had known very personally. Then one evening as we were praying the rosary at home, the phone rang, and my mom answered it. And when she hung up the phone, she told us that Chris DeBuhr had just died in an accident on the road. And I thought, “Well, it must be some older relative with the same name. It couldn’t be the kid that I had sat next to in school and watched him storing a short pencil inside the bottom of his shoe. The kid that I had argued with and laughed with. It couldn’t be that Chris DeBuhr that they were talking about.” But then I had to face the reality that accidents do happen, and God allows them to happen.
Our faith can be shaken and tested, and sometimes we have to say goodbye to some people and some things rather earlier than what we would have liked and chosen for ourselves. Yet through these trials, our faith can also grow stronger if we are willing to be honest and open with God and to continue to trust in his goodness and compassion, even when tragedies appear to call into question whether a good and loving God is really in control. Christianity proclaims a God who is so attentive to our needs that in today’s Gospel, after raising the girl from the dead, Jesus tells them “that she should be given something to eat.” I had to say goodbye to Chris for now and entrust him into the hands of God, trusting that we will meet again someday very soon. I cannot know what would have happened, and what Chris would have grown up to be if he had not died when he did, but I can thank God for the time I did know him, and I can try to make the world a little brighter, like Chris did in so many small ways.
So many people and events in these communities and in these parishes have shaped me into the priest that I am going to be. I hope that I will always keep Christ and the good news of his Resurrection at the center of everything I do, and I ask all of you to remind me often about what’s really important. Ultimately, life on this earth is short for all of us, and the relationship we have with God is the most important, because He will be the one to carry us through the sleep of death. I hope that you never give up on God, no matter what happens to you or your loved ones.
I’m encouraged by the fact that of the 150 psalms, some of the oldest and most widely used prayers of Sacred Scripture, over 40 % are psalms of complaint. Too often, we feel like we’re not allowed to complain to God. We need to just thank him and pretend like everything’s great, but the inspired Scriptures actually give us words to use in complaint to him. God can handle Himself. You’re not going to hurt his feelings. We should not blaspheme, but when difficulties arise or tragedy strikes, God wants to hear from us what we’re really going through, so please, never give up on God. Continue to return to him in good times and in bad. Never give up on God because, I’m here to tell you, God will never give up on you.