Recently, we Franciscan friars celebrated the funeral of a former provincial. Father Juniper Cummings was beloved as seminary professor, pastor, missionary and fund raiser. He was my first pastor when I was ordained and we shared many a drink together before both of us got on the wagon. He was remarkable for his tireless energy; he would cheerfully meet with engaged couples at three in the morning if that was the only time their work schedules permitted.
Today's first reading might serve well as a reading for a funeral.
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.As I sat in the chapel alone with Juniper's earthly remains, I thought of that surpassing power which occupied him. A vessel of clay, he was animated by the Spirit of God, as you and I are.
Inevitably clay vessels disintegrate under the ravages of time. Fired and hardened they last a very long time but simple adobe collapses under wind, rain and sunshine. But they serve their purpose for a time, and that's all their makers ask of them.
You and I hear the gospel; it is poured into us in the form of words but is enriched by the Living Spirit who is God. We keep it for awhile and then surrender it to succeeding generations as our clay returns to the earth.
Even during our lives, it's said, the matter of our bodies is continually replaced by other matter. The water we drink passes through us and back to the earth. The food we eat also passes through us, remaining with us only for a time. In the meanwhile there is that mysterious "self" which perdures. It enjoys the matter passing through it but does not belong to it.
(The only matter that has remained in my body is some dirt, a tattoo, I accidentally acquired fifty years ago. on one knuckle.)
The life in my body resembles the spirit in our Church. It is a "tradition" that remembers the past but is not controlled by it; a promise of the future which easily discards things that are useless or obstructive.
...we too believe and therefore speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.
While my "self" uses and discards matter and must finally vanish when the church buries my body, I remember God's promise. You and I speak it to others as we celebrate our liturgies, which belong not to me or you but to this ancient Church which longs for Christ's Second Coming.
He will remember our names and on some great and distant day will sing out to the Earth, even as he called his friend Lazarus, "Come out!" We will recognize that familiar voice and immediately come bounding out of the grave. And then the Lord will command, "Untie them and let them go free!"
What use we'll have for matter on that day only God knows. The Church has taught us to believe in "the resurrection of the body" but no one can imagine how that word must be fulfilled. Saint Paul says the resemblance will be like that between a seed and the mature plant, which is quite unpredictable.
I think we're in for a delightful surprise, along with all the other wonders to be revealed.