SOMETIMES when working as a priest, one has certain weeks when called upon to liturgically lead a great number of funerals.
Of course this involves many people. The loved ones of the deceased, friends and acquaintances who have walked the journey of life with them, bereavement groups who gently assist with scripture readings, various appropriate prayers, etc., and of course the compassionate undertakers.
During the last week I have assisted at funerals where an active, socially-minded man suddenly died - a 33-year-old whom I first met when he was three - passed away with cancer, and my own brother-in-law, who was sadly run over and killed by his own car.
As I spent time in contemplation preparing to be with the deceased's loved ones, I became conscious of the beautiful consoling theme running through our scriptural readings during the Easter season.
“He is alive here and now, and he is active in the everyday-ness of our lives. Jesus is with us at our side. He is risen. He is alive”. (Bausch).
This is the cornerstone of Christian gospel belief. Millions of struggling and bereaving people of all nations turn to this inner conviction not only when sadness and grief strike, but also in times of joy and rejoicing.
All people come to their conclusions of belief or the lack of it in their own time.
Experiences of life and years spent on our planet usually have great influence upon attitudes to faith.
At Easter we are given some examples of how this happens. The presence of the risen Christ is perceived as a gardener by the grieving Mary from Magdala, the two disillusioned disciples returning to Emmaus experience him as a stranger, frightened apostles hiding in an upper room suddenly lose fear in recognising his presence, and once back in Galilee, men having returned to work as fishermen are pleasantly surprised in being offered a cooked breakfast.
In other words, the risen Christ meets us where we are at in life - no questions asked.
The three people mentioned above lived very different and varied lives, however when it came time to allow their persons to return ‘home’, grieving relatives and friends as a whole cling on to the presence of someone enveloping their loved ones in eternal knowledge and inner peace.
In coming to terms with God and the gift of life we struggle of course to convey inner conviction.
Poets, artists and amazing authors have over the centuries endeavoured to do so.
As gospel people Christians ‘know’ that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we experience the Christ of Creation.
This same Jesus, as he was about to surrender human life for those he believed in, promised Thomas that there were many rooms in the Father’s house.
Easter teaches us again that the house, or better still the ‘home’ Jesus refers to, is our very own person made up of rooms varying from grief, doubt and fear to conviction, joy and peace.
He invited Thomas and Phillip, and yes you and myself too, to open the doors to those rooms and to invite the understanding Spirit of his Father to enter in.
As the apostle Paul constantly reminds us in his letters back to various communities—if your person or home becomes one with the Christ, nothing including death can eradicate your continued existence.
Des Welladsen, St Mary’s Catholic Church