Today we remember all those who have gone before us in death. For most if not all of us, death is probably the hardest thing that we have to face. It is cruel because it brings up so many questions and gives us so few answers and worst of all, the person we love is snatched from us and we can no longer communicate with them. We don’t know where they are, or how they are, although we believe that they are with God, but we don't know exactly what this means.
We are never ready for someone to die, even if they have been sick for a long time. However I think it’s good to remember that although a person’s death comes as a shock to us, it is not a surprise to God. The Lord had been expecting them. From all eternity God has known the exact moment when they would die. To me that thought always puts things in perspective. It reminds me that there is something bigger going which we often lose sight of. All things are in the Lord’s hands.
When someone dies we try to remember the good things about them. We generally don’t talk about their faults, but we remember all the goodness that was in them and it is good that we do that. All of us hope to be remembered for the good we do rather than the mistakes we make. Having happy memories of someone is really a great compliment to them, because it tells us that there was great goodness in them, as there is in most people.
The purpose of our life on earth is to learn how to love and to serve and then hopefully to chose to love and serve. God has given us the freedom to do either. All of us, no matter what our life situation, have the same opportunities to love and serve. Even if we are living on the street in miserable circumstances or the president of a big company, we still have the possibility to love and serve. It starts with the people around us, who can often be the most difficult to love.
In the western world because of better conditions and standards of living, which is a wonderful thing, it is very easy to lose sight of death and the purpose of our life. We are continually given the impression that this world is all about trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and to acquire as much as possible for ourselves and our children. There is nothing wrong with trying to have a good standard of living, but it is so important that we realize that this is not the primary purpose of our life. In the more developed countries even death is quite removed from us and often dressed up in ‘sweetness’ where we hardly get to see the person who has died and the ugliness of death. In poorer countries people are often more in tune with the reality of death because they are being faced with it in a very real way all the time. While this might seem cruel, it is probably a lot healthier from a spiritual point of view, as it keeps us in tune with the shortness of our life and reminds us that our life here on earth is by no means the whole picture.
There is a lovely line in St. Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth which reads: ‘If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19). The whole point of what we believe in is that not only is there a life after this one, but that this is what God has created us for and offers to us. It is up to us if we choose it or not. The death and resurrection of Jesus has made eternal life possible for us. We believe that we will see our loved ones again if they have chosen for God in this life and most people do. We choose for God by the way we live and not just by the practice of a particular religion. This also reminds us that those who have never heard of Jesus or Christianity have the same chance of eternal life as the rest of us. It primarily depends on the choices we make throughout our life for good or evil, for God or against God. Our belief in the world to come is what gives us hope, the hope that something wonderful awaits us and that the struggles we go through here on earth, which are part of what helps us grow into better people, are worth while.
The difficult part for us is that we are left behind with so many questions and so few answers. Why do people get sick? Why do good people suffer? What happens after death? and so on. But Jesus’ words in the Gospels remind us to trust him and to believe that God will make sense of it eventually. It doesn’t make sense to us now, but it doesn’t have to. That is part of the struggle of faith, that so much doesn’t make sense. It would be so much easier if we could see where our loved ones are now, but for now that is hidden from us. We trust and hope in what Jesus has taught us and this is what helps us to keep going. For now we do our best to love and serve and believe.
The souls of the just are in the hands of God