Recently a young woman I know took her life, and with her mother’s permission, I am posting the homily I gave at her funeral mass,
In the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew, in the beautiful poem we call the Beatitudes, Jesus says something that doesn’t make sense. It seems to be the opposite of the truth.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” he says. Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are we now in our shock and our grief.
How on earth can that be?
Because we thought we had everything figured out and now we realize we don’t.
Because now we realize things don’t make sense, at least in the way we thought they did.
Because we’ve been hiding from our fear and hiding from our emptiness, we’ve been living on the surface of our lives, and now our defenses have fallen away.
Now we have to ask the only question that really matters: does God exist, or is this all just random and pointless and cruel?
There’s a mystery here, a great and terrible mystery, and we don’t understand it.
This vibrant, intelligent woman—she was a student of mine at OSU a number of years ago, bright and engaged and open—this bright young woman with the smart, knowing smile was finally so sad and anguished she lost all hope.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says, who feel all this, who know all this, who don’t turn away from this.
But then he goes on. That’s not all he says: he says, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
They shall be comforted.
As in the other Beatitudes, Jesus turns everything upside down. He takes all those things we think are valuable and throws them away. He says no, humility is what matters, and tenderness, and openness, and we have to give up our pride and give up what we think we know, and then, then, God can come to us, God can enter into us, we can experience what is real: a tenderness and a love and a comfort beyond all imagining.
We think, how can this young woman be gone? How can her life be extinguished? This can’t be true, and we’re right. It can’t. Because we are infinitely loved, we are precious in the sight of the God who made the stars, and in the end we will be comforted, we will be whole again, in Christ, in the mystery of God’s love and God’s mercy, and if not now, one day, and if not in this life, the next, and Stephanie has been taken up and she is loved and she is herself again, wholly and completely herself. She has not been lost. She has been found.
In the Gospel of Mark Jesus cries out from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he is bereft, utterly bereft, and we are, too, we are desolate and grieving, and that’s a holy feeling, a sacred feeling. When we feel that grief we are with Christ in his suffering, and he is reaching out to us—he is in us—and Jesus is quoting a psalm from the cross, he is quoting Psalm 22, one of the great psalms of lament, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” the psalmist cries, and then in the next stanza, and yet “I know that you live,” and again, a stanza of grief followed by a stanza of faith, and yet “I know you are God.”
And yet and yet and yet.
“Maybe whatever seems to be so,” the poet William Stafford says,
we should speak so from our souls,
never afraid, “Light” when it comes,
“Dark” when it goes away.
Do not be afraid of the darkness. Do not be afraid of your grief. Do not be afraid.
The light will come, and it has come, and the darkness will never overcome it.
Look at this crucifix behind me, this great crucifix floating above the tabernacle, and how Jesus is floating, too, a few inches above the beams of the cross. His eyes are closed. His arms are outstretched. We can’t tell if he’s rising or being crucified, if he is suffering or he is triumphant. Because he is both: he triumphs through the cross, and through the cross he brings us home.
We thought we had killed him. We thought we had put him in a box. But the tomb is empty. He is not there, he has risen, and nothing is what we thought it was. He is not there. He is with Stephanie, and Stephanie is with him, and he is here with us even now, he will always be with us, in life and in death, in the darkness and the light, even unto the end of time.