Friday, January 19, 2018

Time-Lapse Video


Funeral Mass for Francis Yap Chwee Tee

Readings: Apocalypse 21:1-7; Psalm 26; John 12:23-28

My dear sisters and brothers, do you know what a time-lapse video is? Have you ever seen one? As you know, a time-lapse video is filmed using a special technique that allows us to compress time. To speed up events that usually unfold only very slowly and gradually. To help us to see things that we would otherwise tend to miss, because we have neither the time nor the patience to observe them as they are happening in real time. A flower may take several hours to bloom. Or a chick to hatch from an egg. A caterpillar can take quite a few days to turn into a butterfly. Or a seed to grow into a young plant. But a time-lapse video can show these slow processes taking place in a matter of minutes or even seconds. So that the changes appear more striking to us. So that we can better appreciate all that is happening. So that we may even be moved to praise and thank God for the wonder of creation.

This probably sounds a little strange, sisters and brothers, but in a certain sense, I believe that the Christian Funeral is meant to function like a time-lapse video. Precisely at a moment when we may find ourselves overcome by grief at the loss of our loved one, the Christian Funeral (which, by the way, includes not just this funeral Mass, but also the wake that came before it, the final commendation that will follow it, and even the interment or burial that takes place after that) supports us in our pain. By helping us to compress time. By inviting us to look back at the life of our beloved relative or friend in a certain way. To better appreciate something that has been happening, perhaps without our being aware of it. What is this something? It is the same process that we find unfolding in each of our Mass readings today.

In the gospel, Jesus says that the hour has come. By this he means his death on the Cross. Which is, for him, the same moment when both he and the Father will be glorified. But how can Jesus say that? How can a cruel, painful death on the Cross be a moment of glory? Perhaps because, the striking scene of Jesus hanging on the Cross functions like a time-lapse video. It draws everyone who gazes upon it with an open heart to look back on the whole life of Christ. From his birth on Christmas Day, to his death and burial on Good Friday. From the many miracles he worked, to the moving words he spoke. To watch this flashback, and to realise that, throughout Jesus’ life on this earth, something striking had been unfolding. Something that most people did not realise at the time. That throughout the Lord’s life on earth, a grain of wheat had been falling into the ground and dying. Emptying itself out in love. So that all might enjoy a rich harvest of eternal life. By gazing on the Cross of Christ, we see the glorious process of God’s self-emptying love.

We find something similar in the first reading as well. The apostle John is in exile on the island of Patmos. And it’s a particularly difficult time for Christians. A time of persecution. Yet, as John thinks of the suffering of his people, he is given a striking vision. A vision of a new heaven and a new earth. A vision that functions not unlike the Cross of Christ. Not unlike a time-lapse video. Inviting John and his fellow Christians to look back on their experiences of persecution and exile in a particular way. Reminding them that all the suffering that they are undergoing, is actually part of a larger, more mysterious process. The same process that Christ the Lord experiences in the gospel. The process of dying and rising. The process of allowing an old life of sin and selfishness to pass away. So that the new life of love and joy and peace can flourish. A process by which God is wiping away all tears from their eyes, and making the whole of creation new…

The Cross of Christ and the vision of John. Both these images function like time-lapse videos. They help those who gaze upon them to see the deep Mystery of God’s immense love, poured out for us in the dying and rising of the Lord. But this Mystery does not unfold only in the lives of Jesus and John. We believe that it continues to unfold in the life of every Christian. But, because it usually happens so very slowly and gradually, we often don’t realise it. We don’t pay enough attention to it. We allow it to pass us by unnoticed.

Which is why, it’s such a great help to us that, when a Christian dies, our prayers and readings and rituals invite us to look back on the life of our loved one who has gone before us. To recall scenes from the life of our beloved Francis. Our husband and father and father-in-law. Our grandfather and great-grandfather and friend. Our beloved Francis, who by any standards lived a long and full life. At this moment, when we mourn his passing, our prayers and readings and rituals draws us to look back on Francis’ life as we would a time-lapse video. To allow ourselves to be reminded of the great Mystery that has been unfolding in his life, so slowly and gradually. The powerful love that has been pouring itself out, so quietly and generously. Dying so that others might live. Passing away so that all things might be made new. To gaze upon the life of our beloved dead, and to catch there a glimpse of the Mystery of God’s love. The power of the Cross of Christ. Moving us to joyful praise and thanksgiving. As well as generous commitment.

My dear brothers and sisters, relatives and friends of our beloved Francis, time-lapse videos can often move us to praise and thank God for the wonder of creation. How are your memories of our beloved Francis moving you to plunge more deeply into the love of God today?

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