In Chapter 14 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus tells his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Then Thomas says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Jesus answers, “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me."
Thomas expresses the same doubt that we all feel when we approach death. We ask ourselves: how can I face this tragedy? It is natural to feel sorrow at the death of a loved one but, as Christians, we should also feel a the same time a firm hope that what we are confronting is a separation that may be long or short but that it is not a total loss of contact forever. Our lives are too precious for them to end without a trace. We are acutely conscious of this when we face the death of someone that we love.
As Christians, we believe that death is not an end. It is a transition. It is not a break in existence. It is a transformation. We believe that when the hour of our death arrives, when our existence on this earth reaches its end, we don’t find ourselves facing nothingness. We end up facing the merciful hands of the living God who welcomes us and converts our death in to the beginning of our resurrection.
We should not doubt that death is the most serious crisis that we will go through in our mortal lives. Death rips us out of our being on earth. It is a crisis without remedy to which we have no means of responding. Death takes away our ability to communicate with others. Only God can respond to the uncertainties that we feel about death. Because God is really our merciful Father, our friend and our ally, God cannot look indifferently at death. God is there to welcome us and to show us that the answer to death is eternal life and, ultimately, resurrection.
In Chapter 2 of his Second Letter to Timothy, Paul says, “If we have died with (Christ) we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. Paul doesn’t tell Timothy that he should not grieve. We all grieve at the death of a loved one. What Paul says is that we should not grieve as we had lost all hope. Sooner or later this sorrowful separation will end and we will be reunited.
Christians believe that death is not final. We will be raised from the dead. We do not give up our lives in vain; we return them to the Creator. In death we attain the fullness of our being and we reach true life, which we call eternal life. We don’t believe that there are two lives, this one and the one beyond the grave. We believe that what some call “the other life” isn’t “other” at all. In reality it is a continuation of this life. It is the fullness of life that began at baptism and which no reaches its supreme moment when we come into full communion with the Father.
Sisters and Brothers, we are gathered here today to pray for our sister/brother N. The physical separation that death brings does not mean that N. is too far away to feel our love for her/him. Our love reaches her/him in the form of prayers. At this critical moment when N. comes face to face with God, the entire church is united with us in prayer. N. is not alone. We are with N. in prayer as we remember the consoling words of Our Lord, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me… I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be. You know the way that leads where I go.”