All Soul’s Day Mass – November 2, 2023
Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9; Matthew 11:25-30

The great German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, who was martyred in one of Hitler’s death camps just weeks before the Nazis surrendered, offered these words about the loss of someone that we love:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love.  And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute.  We must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation.  For the gap – as long as it remains unfilled – preserves the bond between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap.  God does not fill it.  But on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other – even at the cost of pain.”

These words make a great deal of sense, don’t they?  No one enjoys the pain that comes from grief and loss.  To a certain extent, time does heal and allows us to move forward.  Yet any death, whether it comes after a long, wonderful life or unexpectedly in a life just a few days old; whether it comes peacefully in one’s sleep, or violently in an accident or by one’s own hands, any death is painful.  Any death can cause profound grief.  Even Jesus grieved over the death of his friend Lazarus whom he loved.  Why wouldn’t we?

And so today, we celebrate as a Church what we affirm most every day of our lives, in spite of and because of the grief that we have all experienced in 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 Matthew’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.” 

Jesus’ words 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 our belief in the resurrection that Christ has won for us. 

Saint Thomas More expressed that reality in slightly different words.  “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”  …   May this day of prayer for our loved ones who have died give us hope – a hope that is rooted in the power of the great paschal mystery – the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus – which binds us together with him in this life and into eternity with all those we love.