Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cheating Death

Funeral Mass of Lucy Chia Klemm

Readings: Romans 6:3-9; Psalm 22; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: cc John C Bullas

Sisters and brothers, what would you say about someone who was involved in a serious car accident, but somehow managed to escape without a scratch? Or suffered only minor injuries. Perhaps the car was a total wreck. But the person survived. There’s a phrase that we use for such people, right? We say that they cheated death. Death reached out to grab them. But they managed to slip through its clutches and to go free. And this is something to celebrate. For even though the car might was lost. A life was saved.

Cheating death. This is also what we believe happens when Christians die. Our faith helps us to cheat death. To escape its terrifying clutches. And to go free. But what does this mean? And how does it happen? This is what our Mass readings help us to understand.

But first, we need to recognise something about death that we often tend to forget. Or to ignore. It has to do with when and how death happens. I’m not sure. But I think many of us see death as something that begins to happen only at the end of our life. Or only when we may fall critically ill. That’s when we start to think of dying. But isn’t it true that death is really a process that begins already from the time of our birth? Or even from conception? Right from our mother’s womb, we are already setting out on a journey that will end in our death. A one-way trip from which there is no return. Death begins right at the start of life. Whether we choose to recognise it or not, each one of us here is already dying.

For some of us, the destination of this journey will look like a terrible car accident. Nothing more than a dead-end. A total loss. Of all that we cherish and hold dear. All that we have spent our lives building and accumulating. But that’s not the only possibility. For others, death will be more like a new beginning. An open doorway. Leading to a fuller, freer, more joyful existence. For even though their bodies may be wrecked. The lives of such people will be saved. They will somehow manage to cheat death. How do they do it? What is it that helps them to escape the car-wreck? And to live a fuller life? This is the question that our Mass readings are helping us to answer today.

The first reading does this by reminding us of what we believe happens at baptism. We’re told that when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death… so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. We Christians see baptism not just as an empty ritual that happens once in a Christian’s life. Rather, it is an expression of the Christian’s commitment to living in the same way that Jesus lived. The Way of the Cross. The Way of laying down one’s life in loving self-sacrifice. For God and for neighbour. The Way of constantly dying to selfish desires. So as to live for the good of others.

Isn’t this also the message that we find in the gospel? Isn’t this what the Beatitudes are all about? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? If not to die to our need to be self-sufficient? To let go of the desire to not have to depend on anyone else. And yet, it is when we die in this way. When we humbly acknowledge our need for God. That we inherit the kingdom of heaven. What does it mean to be gentle? If not to die to our need to be in complete control our own destiny? To let go of our desire to dominate and manipulate others for our own benefit? And yet, it is when we die in this way that we are given the earth for our heritage

This is what we Christians believe. That, by our baptism, we are given the power to transform death. To change it. From a fearful termination, a terrifying car-wreck. To an entrance into the fullness of life and love. Which is why a Christian funeral is never an occasion only for mourning and grief. Yes, we do, of course, feel sad because the one we love has left us. But we also celebrate, because we believe that our dearly departed leaves us for a better place. A place where we ourselves are headed. A place where we can one day be reunited.

And this is true especially as we gather to celebrate this funeral Mass for our beloved sister, Lucy. Who lived to a ripe old age of 91. In faith, we believe that, throughout these 91 years, Lucy has been in fact been dying. Not just physically. But also spiritually. Dying to sin and selfishness. So that she might live in love for God and for others. And I’m sure that those of us who knew her will be able to recall experiences of Lucy’s dying and rising. Very likely we ourselves have benefitted from her self-denial. And this remembering gives us confidence. Confidence that, even as Lucy departs this earth, she yet remains firmly in the gentle embrace of God.

But that’s not all, my dear friends. The rebirth that we gather here to celebrate is not just Lucy’s. It is also our own. For what a tragedy it would be for us if, having celebrated Lucy’s entry into new life, we ourselves should fail to make it to the same destination. No. Today, we gather not just to celebrate Lucy. But also to commit ourselves to continue walking the same Way that she walked. To continue dying to sin and selfishness. So that we might rise to new life in God.

For the same gift that Lucy enjoys is offered also to us. The gift of escape from the clutches of death. So as to rejoice in the embrace of God.

My dear friends, as we bid farewell to Lucy, what must we ourselves do to continue cheating death today?

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