Thursday, February 18, 2016

Clinging to the Life-Line

Funeral Mass for Joshua Ong

Readings: Wisdom 4:7-15; Psalm 27; John 11:17-27
Picture: cc Shemsu.Hor

My dear sisters and brothers, I’m not sure if any of you have ever gone mountain-climbing or rock-climbing before. I haven’t. But I’ve seen people do it. Perhaps you have seen it too. As you know, one thing that climbers usually do is to rope themselves to one another. And we know why they do that, right? It’s so that, in case one of the them slips and falls, the other can pull him back to safety. The rope is a life-line. An assurance of safety.

Of course, for those of us who are watching the climbers from afar, we may not always notice the rope. We may forget that each climber is connected to a life-line. And so, when we see someone slip and fall, it is natural for us to feel anxious and scared. Especially if the person is a close friend of ours. Or a relative. Someone we love and care about. And yet, as long as the rope holds. And as long as the climbing companion is securely anchored. The one who has slipped and fallen will not perish. He can still be pulled to safety. And we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

I mention this because today we gather to say goodbye to someone who has slipped and fallen. Someone we love. Someone we will miss terribly. Our beloved son and grandson. Our relative and friend. Joshua. And the circumstances of his falling are so tragic, and so sudden, that we find ourselves at a loss. We are heartbroken and confused. Troubled and anxious. Not only are we burdened by our own pain and grief. We may also be worried about what will happen to Joshua now. Will he ever recover from his fall? Or will he be lost forever?

And it is at this difficult time, that our Church reminds us of our Faith. Of what we believe. For Joshua is not just loved by us. Joshua is also loved, above all, by God. The same God who gave him to us. The same God who called him from his mother’s womb. The same God who has cared and protected him all the days of his life. Not only that, we also know that Joshua is not just any ordinary person. He is also a baptised Christian. A disciple of Christ. Marked with the sign of the Cross. And filled with the Holy Spirit. We believe that, just as mountain-climbers rope themselves to one another for safety, so too, at his baptism, Joshua was roped to our Lord Jesus Christ. Who is his life-line. His assurance of safety.

So that even though Joshua has now slipped and fallen. And even though we are heartbroken and anxious. We dare to believe that everything will be alright. That he will be pulled to safety. This is what our Mass readings are helping us to remember today. The first reading talks about how people who look on, uncomprehending, may not realise the truth about the virtuous person who dies before his time. They may think that this person is lost, simply because he dies young. But the reading reminds us that grace and mercy await the chosen of the Lord, and protection, his holy ones. Even though our beloved Joshua has died so suddenly, and so young. We dare to hope that God will pull him to safety. For he is not just our beloved son. He is, above all, a beloved son of God.

And this hope of ours is strengthened especially by what we see Jesus doing, and what we hear him saying, in the gospel. Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. Actually he has already been buried. And Jesus visits his tomb to grieve. And also to comfort his family and friends. But, most of all, to raise his friend to life. And to teach us all a valuable lesson. This is what Jesus does for his friends. Those who are tied to him in a bond of friendship and love. He doesn’t just allow them simply to slip and fall, and to perish forever. He goes to their aid. He pulls them to safety. He calls them to life. Jesus is our safe anchor. Our reliable life-line. And what Jesus does for Lazarus, he will also do for our beloved Joshua. And for all of us.

This, my dear friends, is the challenge that we face today. To realise that even though our hearts are broken to pieces. Our throats choked with grief. And our eyes filled with tears. The Lord continues to ask us the question that he asks Martha in the gospel: I am the resurrection and the life, he says. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies he will live… Do you believe this? … Do you believe that I can and will pull our beloved Joshua to safety? Do you believe that I can and will pull all of you to safety? Do you believe I can mend your broken hearts? Calm your cries of grief? And wipe away your tears. Do you believe this?

My dear friends, at our baptism, we were all given a life-line. We were all roped tightly to Christ. Especially in this difficult time, how are we being called to cling ever more tightly to Christ, and to one another, today?

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