Waiting on the Other Side
Sermon for the Commemoration of All Souls
Preached on November 2, 2013 at St. Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Readings: Isaiah 25:6, 7-9; Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; John 11:17-27
It helps, I suppose, that I live so far away from my family. The distance allows me to forget, albeit for a short while, that some of my loved ones already have passed away. I am able to imagine that they and everyone else whom I care about are simply waiting for my next homecoming on the other side of the world. But then, a birthday comes up and it hits me: as much as I would like to call them up or send them a present, I cannot. They are not there anymore.
It is more difficult when the reminders of our loss stare at us every day: that empty side of the bed, the quiet nursery, the vacant recliner, the missing smell of biscuits being baked in the morning. What used to be there every day is no longer there. There is a void and nothing else can seem to fill it.
There are several ways to look at our loss: either we keep grieving over what we no longer have or we become grateful for what we did have. We can try to replay a past that will never come back or we can look forward to a future that will surely come. Ultimately, Death dares us to choose where we want to dwell in the present: either we live in the past or we live for the future.
If we live in the past like those who have no hope, then we would soon realize that we have nothing else left from our loved ones but faded memories and fragile mementos. But, if we look forward to the future resurrection of the dead, then we would be consoled that the Lord has something more in store. We would be comforted by the promise that “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard…what God has ready for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). We would not be sad that our loved ones are no longer here with us; rather, we would be sad that we are not yet there with them.
Of course, this does not mean that our grief completely disappears. There will still be heartache. There will be times when we will need to cry. That void in our lives will stay empty. But, these things simply mean that we still care, that our love for those whom we have lost is not dead, that that love is very much alive.
In our Catholic tradition, we continue to remember those who have gone before us by lighting votive candles. There is something beautiful about this custom, something powerful about the way the rows and rows of candles illuminate the darkened corners of a Church. Those tapers remind us of those timeless things that even Death can never extinguish: the flame of faith that burned at our baptism, the hope in the resurrection that keeps our eyes fixed towards the horizon, the love that unites us here to the hereafter. They recall that the light of Christ “shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (cf. Jn. 1:3).
It helps us, I suppose, to see those candles lit for our faithful departed. Somehow we know that those candles are also there for us: to give us the strength to keep going as we ourselves “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). They make it easy for us to imagine that we have Someone waiting for us on the other side, keeping the light on for our own homecoming.