“Jesus began to weep.” This poignant verse (John 11:35) shows us the fully human Jesus sharing the grief of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother. Verse 33 describes Jesus as “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The anguish felt by Jesus was no doubt increased by Mary’s remark that if he had been present Lazarus would not have died.
Martha did express belief in resurrection “on the last day,” but she was not yet able to grasp the power of Jesus over death. Death is a human experience – something we all inevitably share. As we
travel through this life we encounter death many times. Elderly relatives die; close friends suffer fatal illnesses; young people are killed in tragic accidents; while wars, murders, and other human instigated acts account for many deaths. We all weep – for those who have gone, and for ourselves as we face the prospect of living without persons who have meant so much to us. Grief, pain and death are part of the human condition and the constant reminder of their existence should prompt us to reflection on how to integrate these experiences into our lives in a constructive way.
Many of us tend to ignore the last section of the Catechism, “The Christian Hope,” which sets our present state firmly within the context of eternity. Its phrases are powerful: “live with confidence;” “await the coming of Christ in glory;” “God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being …” We are bidden to pray for the dead, “because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.” There is also a salutary reminder of present responsibilities: “…the communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”
“Those whom we love and those whom we hurt… .” The claim to be Christians brings us into relationships with each other and our being in Christ demands that we treat each other as members of God’s family. We do not necessarily like each other, but we are to make every effort to be
kind, fair, and loving towards all our fellow humans. There will be times when we hurt each other; the reality of the human condition is that we do harbor dislikes towards others who choose to act in ways we do not approve, or who dare to challenge our own opinions. So often these dislikes and irritations fester and lead to bitterness. We try to fight such feelings, yet bitterness causes resentment that remains deep in our hearts and prevents us from allowing the love of God to fill us and work through us. Like Mary and Martha, we doubt, and accuse God of being absent.
Sometimes our grief at the death of a close friend is in part because we know that all is not well in our own hearts! The challenge is presented to us to repent, to forgive, and ensure that we ourselves are in a right relationship with God as well as each other. The prayer below was written for a close friend approaching death. It is a prayer that may be of help to others on that journey – and which may be prayed on behalf of loved ones. It is also a prayer which can remind each one of us that we are pilgrims on a journey to God, and that we need to resolve our differences with each other, and with God, while we yet have time.
You are calling me home.
Give me grace to lay aside
everything that hinders this journey:
Anger lurking, still unseen;
resentments deep and unforgiven;
desires that will never be fulfilled.
May the Spirit of life cleanse my soul
and keep me in peace;
Holy Angels protect those I will leave behind;
and Christ hold my hand on the lonely road which lies ahead.
You are calling me home:
I trust myself into your loving arms.
Suzette L. Cayless