Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Mass of Christian Burial of Nancy Swayne, 21 February 2019 at Saint Paul’s Church.
There was such joy when the first Christians gathered in community in the first church in Jerusalem. This was the Upper Room, where Jesus taught about Eucharist, later instituted the Eucharist and washed the feet of the eleven apostles on the night before He died. It is where Jesus appeared to the apostles in the evening of Easter Sunday, and it is where the early church after the Ascension of Jesus learned how to worship, learned how to live in community around the cross, and learned what it was like to be fully human and share a full humanity with one another—for this is why God became man: that through the gift of Jesus, formed by His outlook upon reality, our fallen humanity (so prone to missteps, misguided behavior) can participate in the sacred humanity of Jesus.
The sacred humanity of Jesus is fundamental to the Gospel of God—fundamental to the Good News that Jesus taught and lived in His life, resonantly echoing the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament. The sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards the world—that all things are not only made by God, but made through Christ: and so it affirms that all creatures both small and great are endowed by God with His gift of existing, and are to be used and beheld for the glory the give to God, the maker of all things visible and invisible.
The sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards people—that Christ in some profound sense is present in all persons, whether Christian or not: and so the sacred humanity of Jesus reveals to us the dignity in all persons, and that all things good, true, and beautiful in all persons are of God, no matter the form, shape, or appearance. To recognize this truth is the deepest meaning of the commandment to love thy neighbor.
And the sacred humanity of Jesus is an attitude towards death, an attitude toward the inevitability of life leading to the end of our earthly, bodily life. It is an attitude awake to sorrow and pain, not avoiding sorrow and pain but embracing it as Jesus embraced sorrow and pain on the Cross—knowing that the power of God overcomes death, overcomes sorrow and pain, and transforms them into new depths of love.
Because our redeemer liveth—and we know this is true because He has been changing hearts of people from one end of the earth to the other for two thousand years, with no end in sight—we know that our lives and our humanity, baptized into His life and His humanity, are already stretched into heaven with Christ. This is the gift of baptism: that we begin to participate in the heavenly realities in the here and now. Death in Christianity does not mean the end of our relationship, but the beginning of a changed relationship with our sister Nancy.
The most important and central truth we proclaim today is found in the first words of our liturgy today, chanted during the procession to the Altar: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” The rest of the liturgy both here and at Prairie Haven simply expands upon that truth, and makes that truth our prayer: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life. Can we doubt that part of the reason for Nancy’s uniquely warm and infectious smile stems from the fact that the spark and light of Christ filled her and she saw that spark and light of Christ in each person she met? And can we doubt that the ability of her smile to fill our hearts in but a moment she now is sharing not only with us but with the dearly departed in paradise—in only the way Nancy can? I not only do not doubt this for a moment, but I firmly believe that it is through her smile that she is singing the praise of Jesus in His house, and will continue to do so in His arms, for ever.