Wis 3:1-9; Ps 23:1-6; Rom 6:3-9; Jn 6:37-40
In the sight of our foes the LORD himself sets up a banquet table. Who are these foes, mocked by our feasting? Who are these foes, seeing only our death, affliction, and destruction? Our true foes, life-long foes, are sin and death. These are the foes of the just. The poetry of the psalms personifies our enemies, naming them sin and death. The prose of our reading from the Book of Wisdom reveals that these foes are the foolish. The foolish can see death only as punishment. The LORD says that even if the passing of the just were viewed as a punishment; they are still filled with the hope of immortal life. Though they be chastised a little they are greatly blessed, “because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself.” Like raw gold the just are purified in the furnace of God’s love. Like incense and the smoke of a burnt offering, the just arise before the throne of the Almighty. This is the confidence that rules the lives of the truly wise. They have no fear of darkness because in love they shine. They have no fear of the oppressors because in justice they rule. Indeed, the LORD is their eternal King. The just trust in the LORD; it is He who scatters sin and death and welcomes grace and mercy to care for his elect. Indeed, the eternal King sets a table in the sight of our foes.
Not only does the LORD set a table before the just, He anoints their heads with oil and fills their cup to overflowing. In order to present ourselves before the LORD at the eternal banquet table, we must walk through the dark valley. Saint Paul reminds us that this faith walk through the dark valley of death starts with baptism. We are baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. In this baptism we are plunged into the mystery of the death of Christ, the precious Son of the Father. Indeed, this is the only way that we can share in his being raised to glory by the Father. We grow in union with Christ though a death like his so that we can be united with him in the resurrection. As a wise person once said, “Those born once, die twice. Those born twice, die but once.” We are born and reborn so that we do not die twice. We die to the old self, to the self-centered self, to the rebellious self, and to the sinful self. We die with Christ so that we might also live with him. The life Christ lives is life eternal; death no longer has power over us because it has no power over Christ. From the earliest days of our new life in the Body of Christ, we deal with the mystery of death and life. We are not strangers to these mysteries. We are not afraid of death because we have already died and risen with Christ.
In the responsorial psalm we have sung already five times, “I fear no evil”. We are professing in song the truth, the precious truth, of our faith. Death is not the end. Life through him with him and in him is eternal. Death may be a physical evil but it is not an eternal evil. Death may snatch us away from those who love us, but love is “stronger than death, more relentless than the nether world”. Indeed, death is not the worst thing that can happen to a human being. Indeed, unrepentant sin is the worst thing that can happen to a human being. We need his love that snatches us from the jaws of death and rescues us from the mud of fear. This is the love that Christ reveals today in the Gospel of Saint John. Out of obedient love he came down from heaven. He came down to seek the beloved bride prepared for him from the people of the covenant, prepared from the very beginning. Just in case there is an residue of fear or temptation to despair, the Lord Jesus makes clear that, “this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.” We, who catch a glimpse of his face in this Eucharist, grow each time more confident that we will see him “whom our hearts seek”. We will see him face to face with all the souls who share our longing and are now being purified. We celebrate our union with all who are moving into the heavenly glory, the beatific vision. This teaching of our Church is the fullest expression of the Lord’s boundless mercy. Even though at death we may not be completely pure and ready to see the LORD face to face. He does not abandon us to our failure and sin, rather, he offers us continued purification beyond this life. His mercy is not limited to our time and space experience. Indeed, the LORD can arrest time and disregard any distance we may have created by our sin. We share, even now, in this boundless mercy with all who have gone on before us; with them we share the assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hand and that we will one day rise with Christ in the fullness of glory. This glory Christ shares from all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit; indeed, this same glory is ours by grace and mercy from our Shepherd.