“For I know that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whenever someone we love dies, especially a parent, all sorts of images and memories flood into one’s consciousness: for me at least, happy memories of past Christmases, shared vacations, various family celebrations, and the graced moments of support, encouragement, and love. Then there are the sad memories, of the various arguments and misunderstandings, the inevitable trials of family life, the examples of human weakness. At a time such as this, there is the temptation is to get stuck in the swirl and turbulence of memory and all the while miss the forest through the trees, to not see the overriding reality that was present in the loved one’s life.
I never asked my mother what she wanted me to preach about on her passing, but I feel really confident in knowing what she wouldn’t want me to dwell on: her. Instead, she’d want me to focus on what gave her life meaning amidst any sort of confusion, hope in the face of very real sadness, and joy that could withstand any of life’s challenges. For her, this was embodied in the person of Jesus, and it was the love that she experienced in that relationship that allowed her to believe in the enduring worth of the Gospel and its impact on our lives.
I’d like to respect my mom’s wishes and not make this a eulogy. Fair enough. However, I hope she’ll forgive me if I use several concrete images from her life to illuminate the theme that we celebrate this morning: renewal and our faith in the resurrection. Because faith in this is more than simply a “head” experience of believing that Jesus rose. Rather, I believe we are able to feel that connection, to believe in renewal and resurrection because we witness its reality blossoming forth oh so ever close in our daily lives.
The first image of renewal I’d like to use is my parents’ house in Salem. As I mentioned last night, my mother had been an interior decorator and it was her dream to restore an old house and bring it to renewal, to new life. For four years my parents did precisely that. My mom was the animating force behind the project and the end result was something quite lovely and beautiful. However, I think something deeper was going on in the work. I think my mom was giving witness to the renewal that had happened in her own life, the renewal that the Lord had engineered. See, my mom’s early life wasn’t easy -- it involved wrestling with some very serious issues, and the house was a sign of her faith that what was broken could be renewed, healed, and that the process happened from inside out, with loving care.
Which is why she never could give up on the human possibility to change. She simply believed that was how God saw it: God never gives up on us. As the Gospel for today says, “this is the will of the one who sent me: that I should not lose anything that was was given to me.” This expressed itself in the second image of resurrection I’d offer: of a young, learning disabled teenager that my parents basically adopted after my mother discovered him one morning at daily mass. His name was Vernon and he was a runaway. She brought him home that day, fed him, heard his story (one filled with abuse and mistreatment) and then spoke with my father about offering him a place to stay. As it turned out, they became his legal guardians and he stayed with them for five years. In that time he was able to get his GED and become able to live independently. While both my parents were involved in Vern’s transformation, it was particularly my mom’s faith in our ability to change and her maternal love that was crucial in making that happen for Vern. More importantly, it was a sign of how God brings about resurrection and renewal throughout the course of our lives: through human love and compassion.
The last image of resurrection is more paradoxical, perhaps even eschatological. It is my mom’s experience of Alzheimer’s. During the five years that my mom struggled with this disease, she was gradually stripped of everything -- most strikingly her ability to communicate naturally. She handled that with uncommon grace and courage, so that by the end, she became so poor that I believe she was able to receive the fullness of the Kingdom at her death. The most powerful aspect of Christian dying is realizing that Jesus is completely intimate to it. Jesus died... and was raised... and because of that he understands all of what we go through in our human journey. What will it feel like for each of us when, upon our death, we look into the eyes of Jesus and know that we are completely known... and loved... and that he has been with us in all our moments of suffering? It’s in light of that, that the words from this morning’s first reading are so meaningful: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines... on this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples... he will destroy death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”
Brigid has passed into eternal life. And if I could imagine her saying anything to us this day it would be that every step of the way was worth it. May your memory be eternal dearest mother.