John 6:40 - For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
This is a special week for Catholics and especially for us ministers of music (that’s you!). We reflect and remember those who have gone before us, those saints who we strive to emulate and those family members and friends who hold such a special place in our hearts. We sing the songs that most likely hold very emotional memories for us, songs we’ve sung or attempted to sing while our throats choked up and tears fell down our faces at our loved ones’ funerals. How are we, as ministers to our parishioners, supposed to find the strength to sing this music when this music holds such a deep, powerful emotional space in our hearts and souls?
We sing out of hope.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1-24)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)
As hard as it is to imagine or sometimes even to accept, God loves those loved ones of ours even more than we do. He has them in the palm of His hand, under the shadow of His wing, tucked under His strong, safe arm. And while we selfishly wish we had more time with them, they’ve run to Him, encountered His loving gaze, and fallen in His arms. He’s given them the peace that only He can give. He’s given them rest that they can only find in Him.
What a joy we find in Christ, that life beats death, that our God loves us more than we can imagine, that there is a place specifically prepared for us. And just as we struggle to find peace in the midst of death, we listen to Jesus’ words:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Whatever load you carry today, set it down and lift it up to Him. Whatever loved one is on your heart this week, know that they are safe in the presence of God who loves them more than we could possibly imagine. This is a God who chose to give His life for us because he loved us THAT much. This is a God who chose to watch and allow His own son to suffer just to show us how much He loves us. We are his beloved children and there is a place prepared for us. Now that’s joy.
As a leader in the church, I’ve had the honor of walking alongside fellow parishioners through life’s deepest and darkest trials: the loss of children and parents, the diagnosis that death is around the corner, the lack of a heartbeat at that ultrasound checkup, the sudden heart attack of a spouse. Often the first response is to blame God. Most ask how a good God could allow such darkness and evil to continue. For others, the friends and strangers who offer well-intentioned phrases, “Everything happens for a reason”, “They’re in a better place”, “It’s all a part of God’s plan”, can leave the mourner feeling even more alone and angry at God. ‘How could a good God choose to hurt me like this?’
God didn’t. He never wanted death. This wasn’t His plan. And yet, he gave us free will, because if we are to be in true relationship with Him, we must have the ability to choose darkness. And through us, darkness and death have entered this world and if we are to continue to have free will, he must allow this cycle to continue until He comes again.
Where is God then? He’s right there. Right next to us. Mourning alongside us, crying as we cry, kneeling with his arm around us as we sit in depression. He’s holding our loved ones when we can no longer hold them. He’s working through us to bring light into this world of darkness. As this world celebrates darkness this week, may we be light, may we celebrate the joy of being children of God, may we live in the hope of life after death with a God who loves us and our loved ones more than we could ever fathom.