Jn 6:41-51; Isa 25:6-9; 1 Jn 1-2
Elizabeth chose the readings and hymns that we have at Mass today, which gives us a precious insight into what she wanted to say to us today.
Often we can know someone, but we don’t always articulate what we believe. We might know that someone goes to Mass every Sunday, but not be sure why, or quite what it means to them. But in giving us these funeral readings and hymns Elizabeth has, in a very real sense, expressed what her faith was, and, in particular, what her HOPE was for this very moment.
In our opening hymn we sang “My soul proclaims the Lord my God”, repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin. And those words surely indicate to us that despite whatever difficulties she had she wanted to express gratitude to God: she had a long life, she passed peacefully with friends and family having seen her in hospital, she’d had the chance to prepare herself to go; and this hymn surely indicates that she wants us to thank God for these and other blessings. Our blessings come from somewhere, from some-ONE, and that is why we call them ‘blessings’, and this is the significance of this hymn at a funeral.
There is one theme in particular that runs very strongly through Elizabeth’s choices, and that is Christ as the Bread of Life. It is our Communion hymn, it was our Gospel, and it was in our first reading.
Our Catholic hymns speak often of “the bread of angels” and the “banquet of heaven” that we heard from the prophet Isaiah. That is what we hope for now for Elizabeth, and her choices indicate that it was the hope she had for herself.
Our hymns also speak of that Bread as the “food of travellers”, the food to sustain them on the way. Elizabeth sought that Bread faithfully and regularly. My clearest picture of her was of her needing me to come down to her on the front row to bring her the Bread of Life, of her having to be helped to walk in here for Mass every Sunday, ANY YET, her perseverance in coming for that Bread of Life even when she was frail –and this shows us that she knew it to be important. It is the “food of travellers” in a particular way to sustain us for the final journey, in “viaticum”, the journey through death to eternal life.
But as a Catholic, the KEY thing, is that this ‘Bread’ is NOT ‘bread’ in the ordinary sense. In the Gospel text Elizabeth chose Christ said, “I am the bread of life... and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world”. It is Christ for whom we were created, it is Christ who is the goal and end of our striving, the model we must pattern ourselves upon. But Christ is not only our beginning and end, He is also with us on the way. And He is with us not just in some figurative sense, but in a physical sense, in his “flesh” –He changes the bread and wine into His very self, as we Catholics hold: into His Body and Blood, His soul and divinity. He said, “This IS my body” and we hold Him to mean what He said.
And, in particular, this is what Elizabeth knew to be true. And she knew it was important to recall today because as her Gospel text indicates, the promise of Heaven, of the Heavenly Banquet, holds for those who have sought to be nourished by Christ in His earthly banquet, the Mass, in Holy Communion, “that a man may eat of it and NOT die”. This is the foundation of our hope for her today –Christ promised this.
One final thought, on Elizabeth’s second reading (1 Jn 3:1-2). That text said, “we are already children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He really is”. As long as we live in this world we have something limited in our knowledge of God. Christians hold that we DO truly know God, we know God as He really is, and we know Him because He Himself has made Himself known by becoming one of us: Jesus Christ. If we in faith accept the truth of what He did and taught then we truly know God. But our sight is still limited; the glory of God and the glory of heaven is still beyond our ability to exhaust. We see God, now, but, as St Paul puts it, “through a glass darkly”(1 Corinthians 13:12). However, what the text Elizabeth chose rejoices in is that, for God’s faithful ones, in Heaven, “we shall see Him as He really is”. This is the hope, the completion and fulfilment of the Christian journey, the journey we are sustained on with the Bread of Life, this is the hope that Elizabeth held for herself and that gathers us her to pray for her today, to pray that that hope will become readily fulfilled.