Most of us don’t know how much we love someone, until we face their death. Maybe this is a father or mother or brother or sister that we didn’t always get on with all that well. There can often be frictions or disagreements of one kind or another in family life. But when we face their death, when we lose them, then we really understand how much we actually did love them. What is even sadder is that once they are dead we are no longer able to tell them how much they meant to us. I was so moved by one man who called from high up, trapped in that burning block of flats, “Tell my sons I love them.” Death reminds us to leave behind our hesitations about loving someone, about not telling them how much they are loved.
Death also challenges people to think about God. Indeed, many people rediscover they have faith when a loved one dies. Suddenly we see our need for God in very sharp focus, our need to believe that there is a power of goodness and love underlying the Universe. We are reminded that every human life is precious, and that every human action, however small, that helps someone else, has an eternal significance. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Matt 10:37-42) ‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…. then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’ I was reminded of this at a funeral this week. Francis was a quiet man who lived alone, and never did anything remarkable, except that he was kind and gentle to everyone he met. He would have been astonished to see a packed church, as people acknowledged in his death, how much his simple life had meant to them.
It’s because of this truth, that death challenges us to think about life in a deeper way, that Christians are actually called to live with death daily before their eyes. Not of course, death as a gloomy sad thing, but as we think of that one death, the death of Jesus, that above all other deaths proclaims the triumph of love, the defeat of death by life. From the moment of our Baptism that is what we are called to do; to look always at the cross of Jesus, and find there the glory of God giving every part of our life some meaning and purpose. This is what we heard in our 2nd Reading (Romans 6:3-4. 8-11) “When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death… so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.”
Our new life in Christ that we live every day will probably be fairly dull and ordinary, as most lives are. It may sometimes be hard and stressful too. Looking at the cross of Jesus reminds us that he is always there with us, even in the darkest moments, even when a loved one dies, because he has already faced death for us.
To love God is not to love other things less. When Jesus says “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.”, he is not asking us to love our father or mother less, in order to love him more. Rather he is challenging us to realise, that however much we love those who are dear to us, that love is as nothing compared to the love he has for us, and we therefore must have for him. Indeed, if our love for others, and their love for us is a true love, then we need to remember that all this love comes from God, who is the source of love. As we read in St John’s first Letter “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16)
Jesus says that we find our life by losing it; and I think he means by this that clinging on to life is not what life is about. True life must be a life of love, of sacrificial love. That man calling from the fire as he knew he was going to die, could not do much for others, all he could do was call out to tell his sons he loved them, and so he did it. Our actions of love do not have to be grand or dramatic in order to be accepted by God. We just have to do them.
We had an example of this in our 1st Reading (2 Kings 4:8-16) ; the story of the woman looking after the prophet. All she did was to give the prophet a bit to eat and drink as he passed by, and later to find a place for him to sleep. We are given the story of just one example of what we are called to do every day as Christians. We are called to do simple practical ordinary everyday things for others, in which we quietly give up something we might want to do, to help someone else. Such things will never hit the headlines, but we are assured that they are all seen, and are all blessed, by God.