Mass of Remembrance – July 25, 2023
Lamentations 3:17-26, 7-9; Romans 8:31-35, 37-39; Luke 24:13-35

​If you were to walk into my apartment in the cathedral rectory next door, for all of things that you’d see – from the many pictures, books and trinkets that I’ve accumulated over the years, there’s one thing that I doubt anyone would ever notice.  It’s a tiny seashell.  It’s not particularly unique or colorful.  But it means something to me.  

In 2004, my folks were in Florida during the winter.  My father was suffering from cancer at the time and would die later that year.  When I visited with them, he was doing quite well and one of his favorite things to do was to walk the beach in the morning to get some exercise.  One day as I was walking with him along the beach, he picked up a shell and handed it to me.  For some reason, I kept it.  And I still treasure it to this day as a way to remember him.  

I suspect many of you have similar ways of keeping alive the memory of those whom we love and have lost.  Maybe it’s a sweater hanging on a door.  A room that you’ve never touched since your loved one’s passing.  A picture.  A card.  A note.  …  We all cling to things that for reasons often known only to us alone enable us to remember in a special way the lives that are woven into our own and that have passed from this world to the next.

At the heart of this evening’s mass, my friends, is an invitation from the Church – and from Jesus himself – to remember.  We remember our loved ones who have died, yet who are still present.  And we remember the promises of our faith rooted in the person of Jesus that draw us together in prayer this night.  

For all of the gospel passages that could have been proclaimed during this mass, today’s passage from Saint Luke, while a bit unusual for a gathering such as ours, is quite poignant in the lessons that it provides for our reflection and prayer.  Saint Luke was writing for his community that, like so many other communities and our gathering this evening, had to face the reality of the death of someone whom they deeply loved and sought to remember at all costs, even in the face of anger, confusion, disbelief.

You know better than I that there are no simple ways – no gimics – no manuals to follow that will easily take away the pain that comes from grief.  But if you listened carefully to the gospel, Luke actually proposes three very basic ways in which a community – a family – could find healing and hope when confronted with death, just as the apostles did when they were faced with the death of Jesus. 

When the two grieving disciples were talking as they journeyed to Emmaus, a stranger approached.  Following their exchange with him of the events of Jesus’ death, do you recall what the stranger did after he listened to their anxiety, distress and hurt?  He spoke about the message and wisdom contained within the scriptures.  In other words, Saint Luke seems to suggest that in our grief, an important step in the healing process is to listen to the timeless Word of God.  

Admittedly, that may not be the first thing you or any of us would be inclined to do when faced with the reality of death.  But in time, just as we experience here this evening, opening the Scriptures shouldn’t be the last thing we do.  More than most anything else, the Scriptures have the power to give us comfort.  …  The Old Testament book of Lamentations affirms this evening that while our souls may indeed be “deprived of peace,” we have reason to hope.  “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent.  They are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.”  …  And Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us that in the face of loss and grief and all that seems to overwhelm us, nothing, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, … nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The second consideration point that Saint Luke offers as we journey toward healing is discovered in the breaking of the bread.  The grieving disciples came to recognize Jesus at table with them – where he said he would always be found.  …  In the Eucharist, we’re given the assurance that we are not alone in life or death, but that Jesus walks with us.  “I am the bread of life.  The one who eats this bread and drinks this blood abides in me and I will raise him us on the last day.”  …  Those whom we have loved and lost and who celebrated the Eucharist with us while they lived among us now experience fully what we feebly seek to believe and for which we hope.  This sacrament, more than any other, binds us together with the Lord and all who have passed from this world to the next.

The final consideration that Saint Luke offers to us as we seek to come to terms with the reality of death in our lives is blessing of community.  At the end of the story, after recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the disciples set out at once to find their brothers and sisters and to recount for them their encounter with the risen Jesus.  …  Therein is the final step that we all need to take as we seek the healing of our grieving hearts. No matter how determined we are to maintain our independence, we cannot heal alone.  We need one another – our family – our friends – our Church – to help us face our grief and to eventually help us realize that there is light and hope – even in the midst of the darkest of nights. 

How blest we are this evening to have the same opportunity for healing and hope that was given to the early Church.  For what we do this evening during this Mass of Remembrance is exactly what occurred in Saint Luke’s gospel proclaimed a few moments ago.  …  Two friends of Jesus held his memory deep within their hearts.  …  They encountered a stranger in much the same way as we encounter one another in this time of prayer.  …  They listened as we just did to the Word of God and reflected upon its meaning.  …  They broke bread together, as we will in a few moments.  …  And they encountered the risen Jesus and were given hope.

Brothers and sisters, for all that we don’t understand about life and death – for all that seems to have been taken away – and for all that we no longer have – there is much that we’ve been given.  …  Jesus is in our midst.  We know that.  That’s why we gather this night, whether we realize it or not.  His suffering and death remind us that we do not suffer alone, for he walks with us and leads us through our crosses to resurrection, life and peace.   

Tonight, as we remember and hold within our hearts those whom we love and have lost, may we also remember that our faith in Jesus assures us that there is more to this world than we can see and touch.  Because of his resurrection, Jesus is present among us – in the Word of God proclaimed – in the Eucharist we receive – and in this community of believers who gather in his name.  And because of his resurrection, our loved ones live as well – and walk with us – and love us – and pray for us – and wait for us to one day join them in God’s eternity and peace.