Funeral Mass for Mary Tong Yuet Eng
Readings: Romans 6:3-9; Psalm 27; John 11:17-27
Picture: cc Amy Claxton
Sisters and brothers, in a time of bereavement, such as this, we can often feel as though something precious has been taken away from us. Something that we love very much. Something with which we cannot bear to part. It’s as though we have been engaged in a terrible tug-of-war with Death. And lost. Our opponent has proven too strong for us. Although we have clung on very tightly. And pulled with all our might. It feels as though Death has torn the very rope out of our hands. What is this rope? It’s not just the one who has died. The one whom we love. Who is physically now no longer with us. But it’s also the bond of love between us. We grieve our loved one’s passing. Not only because she is no more. But also because we feel as though the bonds that joined us to her have somehow been broken by the terrible power of Death.
Which is why, my dear sisters and brothers, we gather for this funeral. Not just to mourn the passing of the one whom we love. Not just to celebrate the gift of her life. But also to allow ourselves to be reminded of what we believe as Christians. Something that is central to our Christian faith. Something that our Mass readings help to bring to our attention. The consoling Truth that, however heavy our hearts may be at this moment, however strongly we may be tempted to believe otherwise, the bonds of love are stronger even than Death itself.
Isn’t this what we find in the first reading from the letter to the Romans? Here, St. Paul reminds us of what we believe happens when we are baptised. For us, baptism is not just an empty ritual, where blessed water is poured over us. It is much more. Baptism has to do with the forging of an unbreakable bond. A union that is stronger even than Death. For when we were baptised we went into the tomb with Christ and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.
Through baptism, we commit ourselves to dying everyday to sin and self-centredness. So that we might live a new life of love and self-sacrifice. The same kind of life that Christ lived. And not just the same kind of life. But the very life of Christ itself. As St. Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians, it is no longer I, but Christ living in me (2:20). Through baptism, we live no longer with our own lives, but with the very life of Christ. Which is why the first reading is filled with words like join and union and with. Words that speak to us of relationship. The intimate bond between Christ and the baptised. And which the baptised enjoy with one another. Bonds that are so strong that not even Death can tear them apart. For Death has no power over Christ any more.
This is also the same belief that Jesus explains in the gospel. Shortly before he raises his beloved friend, Lazarus, from the dead, the Lord consoles Lazarus’ sister, Martha. He tells her, I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. What is the Lord saying, if not that the bonds of love between him and those who believe in him are too strong to ever be broken? Too strong even for the painful experience of Death and Bereavement to tear apart. Such is the power of our baptism. Such is the power of our Belief.
It’s as though, in our tug-of-war with Death, the rope of relationship has been tied forever to a huge solid tree. A steady anchor. An immovable foundation. Such is the power of our Faith. Our belief in Christ. A belief that is professed not just in word and worship. But also, especially in the way in which we live our lives.
Which is why Jesus consoles Martha not just by telling her that everything will be all right. But, above all, by asking her a crucial question. Do you believe this? Do you believe that Christ is the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that the bonds of love in Christ are stronger even than the pains of Death? And are you resolved to live out of this belief? Out of this bond of love? Instead of the fear of death? Do you believe this?
And this is also the same question that the Lord is asking us today. Even as he comforts and consoles us in the pain of our loss. Do you believe that love is stronger than death? Are you committed to living out of this belief every day of your life? For if we are, then we can be sure that the bond between us and our departed love ones will forever remain intact.
As you know, it is this same confidence in the power of love in Christ that led our dearly departed Mary to ask for baptism. Seeing that her own husband had been baptised shortly before his passing, she too asked to be baptised. Why? Perhaps because she realised that she would, in this way, remain forever connected to her beloved husband. Connected even after his passing. Connected in the love of Christ. Into which they would both be baptised.
And isn’t this the same confidence that is expressed in the responsorial psalm? There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…. I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord. Isn’t this the same confidence we are all being invited to claim for our own?
Sisters and brothers, even as we continue to experience the tug-of-war of bereavement, how are we being invited to tie the rope of our relationships securely to the Tree of Christ’s Love today?