In the second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”. I like that, where, O death, is your sting? And I can see Paul rising up on his feet, his voice growing louder.
With the readings this Sunday, we conclude Ordinary Time, and await Ash Wednesday and the penitential season of Lent. But Paul’s words send me back to Advent, reminding me of two deaths and two funerals.
It was a strange setting. Like Lent, Advent is a season of preparation, but most people are already celebrating Christmas, a season of birth and lights and good cheer. And in the midst of this excitement and joy, I experienced confusion and sadness. The first death was quite unexpected. The music director died alone in his home. The second was expected, but no less surprising. The mother of close friends succumbed to cancer after several years.
I had recently moved from the Parish to another, but returned for both funerals. This Parish had been my home for twenty years. Here I had found a community. We had had large families and homeschooled and refused to hold hands during the Our Father at Mass. Because we did all the right things, we considered ourselves faithful, and concluded that others who didn’t do all the right things were unfaithful. We set ourselves apart.
And that was most certainly a problem.
When life made it difficult for me to do all the right things, I was no longer welcome. The end had come, or perhaps the beginning. And nothing was easy. For years, I felt isolated and alone, unwanted even. So, after some time bouncing between two Parishes, I finally decided on the new.
Returning to the old Parish was intimidating. But as I sat in the pew, I looked around me at the people who had come to say farewell. In this Catholic Church, the faithful and the unfaithful, religious and non-religious sat together. We all came to mourn the deaths of Tom and then Bonnie, to remember the good they had done, to tell their stories. And perhaps to connect with something, or Someone, beyond us, and to reflect on our own lives in relation to death. But, for me, there was something more.
No one talked about who was faithful and who was not. There was no mention of the gay agenda, the contraceptive mentality, communion for the remarried, or holding hands at Mass. Everyone, religious and non-religious, reflected on the fragility of our friends’ lives and our own. On the beauty of their lives, and the hope for our own.
Perhaps death is like that. Who’s right and who’s wrong is put aside. Us versus them loses its attraction. It’s now about us.
And this is most certainly the solution.
Before we remember and celebrate the Resurrection on Easter, we will spend forty days in preparation. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are worthy practices, but perhaps, we could do something else. This Lent, instead of viewing those who don’t do all the right things as unfaithful, maybe we can think of them as one of us. Maybe we can gather with them each Sunday, to worship God, and discover our common good in his story.
And perhaps, when dawn breaks on Easter Sunday, we too can taunt death – Where, O death, is your sting?
Deanna Emge lives in the Pacific Northwest with her super-sized family. She enjoys running and hiking, and has just uncovered her interest in quilting.