During my years as a music director for the Catholic Church, I provided music for hundreds of funerals. At nearly each one, the first reading came from the book of Wisdom, specifically Chapter 3, which reads “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.”
The Scripture passage magnifies the first reading from today, which begins with the statement that “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” This is such an important idea for us to understand. Death is in the world because of one man, Adam, and because of sin. It is not something God wants, but it is something he must allow, something we must experience. God certainly has the power to remove death from the world, but doing so would mean that God would have to change our very existence, and take away our opportunity to reconcile our lives and return to Heaven. In Salvifici Doloris, a letter on redemptive suffering, Saint John Paul II writes that “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance.” By the same token, we need to die so we can be born again in to new life.
But, as always, God will not abandoned us. In today’s Gospel, we see two accounts of Jesus’ healing mercy. The first is when a woman, stricken with leprosy, touches his cloak and is healed by him. Even though a great commotion is happening around Jesus, he is able to tend to the woman as though no one else is there. The second account of his mercy is with Jairus’ daughter, who has died. Just as with Lazarus, death does not worry Jesus. He even refers to them both as asleep and not dead. When he speaks the words “Talitha koum” the girl rises. For us, the hearers of this story, this brings meaning to the words of the Gospel Acclamation we just heard that says “Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.”
Today’s readings confirm for us that death is not permanent, and that eternal life awaits us. However, there is still much for us to do while we are on earth. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul expresses his gratitude to those who have lived their lives well and for others. And he also reminds them of what Christ did for them, and that it is important for them to do the same for others. He tells them they need to supply for the needs of others and ensure that all are taken care of. He even reminds the Corinthians of a principle that was established when the book of Exodus was written: that each person should only take what they need so that everyone will have enough.
Our lives are filled with opportunities for us to live well, to live justly, and to live as Christ taught us. And when our earthly life is over, we can be assured that Heaven awaits us, because Christ conquered death for us.