No. 4 of the Order of Christian Funerals refers to Christians’ “confident belief that death is not the end nor does it break the bonds forged in life.” This theme appears twice in the Vigil for the Deceased. In the invitation to prayer (OCF 71), the presider affirms that “we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.” The opening prayer (OCF 72) uses the some of the same words as no. 4: “For those who believe in your love death is not the end, nor does it destroy the bonds that you forge in our lives.”
I turn to the idea of these lasting bonds because in September I will be gathering with friends from St. John the Baptist High School to recall and commemorate classmates who have died since our graduation in 1983. A precipitating factor here is the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. A classmate was a member of the crew of United flight 93 that day. My point here is not to address the many changes on the domestic or international scene since that day, nor to dwell on this one classmate. Rather, I want to reflect on the significance of our gathering.
We will gather to renew the ties that bind us together, ties that held and still do hold our deceased classmates. We gather because humans are social animals, a point driven home with painful clarity during our many months of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. Gathering is also a fundamentally Christian thing to do, again a point so many experienced with pain in a time of Eucharistic deprivation. Being together is essential to the maintenance of the communion among persons in and through which human likeness to the Divine Persons shines forth (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1702). Yes, togetherness can be virtual/electronic and it can be manifested in phone calls and letters. An incarnational and sacramental people, however, needs also to assemble in person.
No doubt we will recall our friends’ achievements and foibles. Yet Christian remembrance of the dead is always also about what God has done in and through their lives and about what God is doing in and through us here and now with an eye on the coming of that Kingdom about which Jesus of Nazareth so often spoke. God is about dying and rising and about loving with fierce and tender relentlessness. Christians recall and make present this relentless love above all in liturgical celebrations of the paschal mystery of divine love poured out in the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
To be in community often requires a measure of sacrifice (in the form of love and forbearance, for example). Community *is* a sacrificial reality. When we gather to remember our friends, may we do so in the paschal spirit of community. When we disperse, may we go forth renewed in the relentlessness of divine love.