All Souls’ Day Mass – November 2, 2021
Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; Matthew 11:25-30
Years ago, I attended the funeral of a young man in his 40’s. He had died following a struggle with cancer. He was the son of a widow whom I had gotten to know pretty well from one of the parishes where I had been assigned. Sadly, this widow had buried another son about ten years earlier. He also died from cancer – quickly and rather unexpectedly. The woman’s name was Jen. She was around 80 years of age at the time of her second son’s passing.
Jen was a strong woman, having also buried her husband a few years before the death of her first son. But the loss of her second son seemed to most of us, her family and friends, to be more than she would likely be able to handle. Yet, she surprised everyone and faced the days leading up to his funeral and during it with grace and dignity.
As she was leaving the cemetery following his burial, I walked beside her. She didn’t have much to say but these words that she spoke several times, “Life goes on.” … “Life goes on.”
Those three words have stayed with me for a long time, particularly as I watched this faithful woman face life without her two sons. Life does indeed go on, even if it’s never quite the same. And it goes on both in this world and the next because of that which motivates our presence here in our cathedral on this All Soul’s Day. Life goes on because of Jesus and the power of his cross and resurrection.
Today, we celebrate as a Church what we affirm most every day of our lives. Whether at a Mass like this, at the graves of those we love or in the midst of daily routines, we affirm that there is more to our lives than we can see and touch, don’t we? In short, we make as our own the words of St. Paul found in today’s second reading from his letter to the Church of Rome, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.”
This day also provides us with an opportunity to remember – with the Church – all of those dear souls who have been a part of our lives, who have passed from this world to the next and whose lives go on in God’s eternity.
Listen to the consoling words of Jesus and the assurance of life, even in the face of death, that come to us from Saint Mark’s gospel. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. And your souls will find rest for my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”
Listen to Jesus’ words. They resonate with our lives, don’t they? Jesus doesn’t white wash life. He doesn’t say that if you’re a good person, if you pray, you will never have a cross to carry or a burden to bear. No. He says “Come to me with your struggles and pain … and I will give you rest.” … Jesus’ promise of rest, however, is not something that marks the end of our lives, for the same scriptures remind us that death was not the final chapter in the story of Jesus’ life. Three days after he died, he rose and so promises the same life and resurrection to all who live and die believing in him.
Our belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus won’t necessarily take away the pain that comes from grief, but it does have the power to help us make sense of why we feel the presence of our loved ones, even in their passing – why we choose to gather in prayer for them today – and why we all affirm that life goes on.
The great Saint John Chrysostom expressed that reality in slightly different words. Listen to what he said: “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” … And they are with us because of the power of Christ’s resurrection, which knits us together with him through this life into eternity.