St. John 11.vv.17-27

~ When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him". Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again". Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day". Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?". She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world". ~

It has been stated with a fair degree of reason that in the Victorian Era death was overtly contemplated physically and figuratively, and sex was hidden away, but that in the 20th century the position has been completely reversed.

Certainly sex has been flaunted and death "played down" in recent years. It does not follow that death has been trivialised. On the contrary, with the weakening of Christian beliefs about eternal life and the gross ignorance of many about Christian teaching concerning death, a mystique and sometimes fear and despair have arisen when the subject is broached.

In previous generations, especially when infant mortality was higher and extended families were the rule, even young children became habituated to the visitation of death to the home and the spectacle of their loves ones deceased.

Today, unless requested to the contrary, Undertakers are expected to remove the deceased post- haste from the home and to keep the bodies in a "chapel of rest". Seldom do relatives ask to see their dead.

As a priest involved in many funeral visits and ceremonies, I have, nevertheless, been impressed by the number of people who, though they never "darken the Church door", yet have a profound regard for the ministrations of the Church in times of mourning and are even brought back to the Christian faith through the experience of losing a loved one. It is seldom that one ever encounters anything but a deep reverence for life and death and a desire to fathom these mysteries.

One of the most intractable problems that I have ever encountered in the homes of death is in reassuring the living that the sense of guilt and remorse towards the deceased is one that we all share and which we need to work through. Knowing how we all hurt and neglect those we love most, and how we suffer the pangs of guilt, we do well to remember that such feelings can only be truly assuaged by (sometimes open) confession and by the grace and comfort of God into whose hands we commend our loved ones, and who alone can forgive our sins.

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