Lectionary: 668; John 6: 37-40
The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is the ultimate commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection, and of our participation in it. For this reason the Church rarely cedes this occasion to focus on other saints, should their feast days happen to fall on a Sunday.
There are a few exceptions: the feast of Saint Peter and Paul on June 29th comes to mind, yet even there it is due to those great saints’ particularly close association with Christ and the proclamation of his death and resurrection that the Church “sets aside” the regular Sunday mass to honor them. Next week, too, we celebrate the Dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran on a Sunday, though this is owing to the original dedication of that great Roman basilica in the time of Constantine as the church of the Holy Savior—Christ himself.
Today therefore is unusual in that the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist focuses on the mystery of Christ’s resurrection through a very special lens indeed: on this All Souls’ Day we remember the dead. Not the saints—that was yesterday—but the dead.
The Church’s commemoration of All Souls’ Day has been shaped over the centuries by words and symbols which help us to face the pain and difficulty of an encounter with death with great hope. The readings today play a beautiful role in this process, presenting to us some inspiring words to strengthen us when we are troubled by the thought of death, and to give us a sense of peace and even joy.
The Old Testament passage from the book of Wisdom reminds us that ultimately the souls of all the departed “are in the hands of God”, and that there is nowhere we should rather they be. These words can be hard to accept at first, because we naturally like to think that our loved one is “in heaven”. If we are honest, however, we realize that these words allow God the freedom to do what only God can do: to heal, to teach, and to judge in a manner that is characterized by perfect justice and perfect mercy at the same time. Heaven on God’s terms, not ours.
Next, St. Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans that upon the death of a loved one we ought to call to mind and take comfort in their baptism, remembering that as surely as that loved one has now shared with Jesus in death (symbolized by immersion into the water of the baptismal font), he or she now abides in the hope of sharing with Jesus in his new and eternal life.
John’s gospel has the final word on All Souls’ Day, speaking to us as it does about God’s will to bring all his children to salvation through Christ. Jesus himself confirms not only the Father’s will but announces his own desire to see the will of the Father brought to completion: “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:37-38).
This Sunday as we commemorate the departed faithful let us see it as an opportunity to grow in trust in the Lord, recalling that our hope for the resurrection from the dead of a loved one comes not through their own merit or through our desires for them but through the mystery of Christ who experienced death himself in order that we all might have new and eternal life in him who said: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (John 6:40).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.