Brett Fawcett

WORD MADE FLESH

All Souls' Day – November 2, 2014
Lamentations 3.17-26 | Psalm 103 | 1 Corinthians 15.51-57 | Matthew 11.25-30
October 20, 2014

Many devout believers in God have had their faith severely shaken by the death of a loved one. Even the great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, almost lost his faith when his wife died of cancer. It can be hard to believe that a God of love would allow us to experience something as cruel as grief.

Yet grief is not a sin, even when it causes us to doubt God's goodness. Indeed, in our First Reading from Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah bluntly expresses this sort of tortured grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and the massacre of the Jews.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. – Lamentations 3.22

'The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.'

Lamentations 3.22

"I have forgotten what happiness is," he cries, and "gone is . . . all that I had hoped for from the Lord." In his grief, Jeremiah confesses to "despair" (a word that literally means a loss of hope). He doesn't deny or suppress these feelings, but honestly admits to them.

How did he regain his hope? How can we?

It is worthwhile to remember why human death occurs at all. Of course, death is, from a natural perspective, inevitable. But St. Athanasius says that when man and woman were created, the grace of God elevated them above nature into a state of blessed immortality. Once we fell into sin, however, we gave up that gift and collapsed into a state of mortality.

When we mourn the death of a loved one, therefore, let us also remember to mourn our sins, which caused death to afflict us in the first place. (Understanding that human sin is ultimately why God allows suffering is a theme of Lamentations.)

Yet, Athanasius continues, God was not content to leave us there, but chose to enter the human situation and save us. It is significant that Jesus triumphed over death as a representative of the human race. He conquered death on our behalf.

The grave has already been defeated, though it won't be abolished until the resurrection. St. Paul celebrates this in the Second Reading. At the triumphant blast of the angelic trumpet, the dead will be raised, and our mortal bodies will put on the immortality of Christ's body. Death will be undone and disappear forever, and the separation will be over.

This is what we hope for. As we say in the Creed, "I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Until that day, faith is sustained by thousands of little blessings from God which remind us that God loves us and is actively working to save us and to set all things right.

This is what Jeremiah remembers: "His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." "Therefore," he says, "I have hope."

On All Souls' Day and all year round, let us ask and offer hope-filled prayers to the faithful departed who sleep in the peace of Christ. Let us ask especially for a greater outpouring of the virtue of hope.