The modern funeral has become largely a time of tribute, when we remember the one who has died and try to assess the contribution he or she made to life in this world.
It’s less about acknowledging the mystery of death as someone passes from this world to a world beyond, and that is surely a loss.
I suppose that’s why the internment of Senator Kennedy’s body in Arlington Cemetery the other day moved me most. As darkness fell the television cameras could only see dim images of a graveside flame and occasional flashes of lightening in the night sky. It was a ceremony taking place in the dark. The simple words of the senator’s letter to the pope and the answer he received seemed to be signs of our helplessness and hope before this great mystery.
In the words of the Imitation of Christ, “the din of human words” had come to an end.
“You thunder your judgements upon me, O Lord; you shake all my bones with fear and dread, and my soul becomes severely frightened. I am bewildered when I realise that even the heavens are not pure in your sight.
If you discovered iniquity in the angels and did not spare them, what will become of me? The stars fell from heaven, and I, mere dust, what should I expect? Those whose works seemed praiseworthy fell to the depths, and I have seen those who once were fed with the bread of angels take comfort in the husks of swine.
There is no holiness where you have withdrawn your hand, O Lord; no profitable wisdom if you cease to rule over it; no helpful strength if you cease to preserve it. If you forsake us, we sink and perish; but if you visit us, we rise up and live again. We are unstable, but you make us firm; we grow cool, but you inflame us.”