The following was a homily I gave today at the Mission Church, noon Mass. The text was John 6:37–40, and it was the Feast of All Souls, aka The Day of the Dead
Thirty-four years ago today I laid my father to rest in the foothills outside Sacramento. I will always remember that day—a blustery one, back when the climate was normal and Fall set in on time. The trees up there were aburst with color (best fall colors in California, by the way) and rain clouds were gathering. Father Michael Buckley’s alb was billowing in the wind, as though he were about to be carried aloft.
That was my first direct encounter with death. As I was to learn, it keeps happening, and in fact accelerates as we grow older: A sibling, a grandmother, another sibling, another parent, a friend, another friend, another friend, another coworker, someone else’s friend . . . God never ceases drawing our beloved unto himself in a constant stream toward heaven.
All this dying can leave us feeling bereft and sad. It is fitting, perhaps, that we celebrate this Feast of All Souls in deep autumn, a time when, as the leaves fall and plants grow dormant (at least in the Northern hemisphere) we can see the drama of denouement played out in nature itself. It is a somewhat mordant time of remembrance, and it is for understandable reason that that the old church in which some of us were raised used black this day as the liturgical color.
But, as in the southern hemisphere, this feast might even more appropriately be celebrated in the springtime, when the promise of new life is aborning. In fact, I would suggest moving it liturgically to Holy Saturday, when, between the Cross and Resurrection, we recall that Jesus visited those who had gone before us, to reassure them and give them hope, welcoming them into the communion of the saints. This is what lies at the core of the journey of life—being visited by God’s love and lifted up to the very heart of God. And so this day of All Souls is a poignant reminder of the foundation of our faith in the Resurrection itself.
For what we can fail to recall on these days of the dead, these days of remembrance, is that the source, heart and soul of our faith is not the mystery of death, but the joy of resurrection. And what is resurrection? It is the creative power of God’s love to lift us up, even now, to himself. It is the power of God’s love that streams through even what is dead—a tenet of ancient Jewish faith. For, as Paul reminds us, nothing—no power whatsoever, not even the power of death, can stand between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus. This we believe. And what this means, as today’s Gospel assures us, is that not one of us will be lost in death. For God so loves us—each of us uniquely—that even in and through the passage of death, God envelopes us in his love. We are already being so enveloped, in and through the life of grace, and within the inner depths of our living faith. Our hope is not something gossamer, but is planted in the reality that God is already at work in our lives, lifting us up to himself. The exemplar is Jesus, whose life culminated not in the Cross, but in the Empty Tomb and the bursting forth of the Spirit (the ruach Elohim) upon those he left behind—leaving them in a state of hope, with a zest for life.
Life truly does not end, for, surrounded as we are by the love of God, we live in real hope for a life transformed that dissolves all earthly bounds. What a gift, then, it is for those of us who are currently breathing to contemplate the Mystery that is greater than life itself—the unending nativity of God’s love that our beloved dead already have the joy of knowing.