Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Whose failure?

The USA Today story on the parent's reaction to the priest's homily at the funeral of their teenage son who took his own life has gotten a life of its own.  You can read the actual homily here.  You can read their comments, well, just about anywhere.  Their complaint is that the priest did not use the homily to celebrate the life of their son, tow their son lived and not how he died, and certainly no calling their son a sinner or mentioning suicide (6 times).

The question in my mind has less to do with the priest than it does with the family and the church and preaching as a whole.  If this family was active in their church and did not just seek out a church for the sake of the funeral, and I am not saying that they did, either this family had not been listening to Scripture or preaching OR the priests had not been faithful to the Scriptures and preaching faithfully the whole counsel of God's Word.  For the issue is not whether the words of the priest were hurtful or not (when your teenage son takes his own life, just about any words you hear are hurtful in some way) but whether or not the people had failed to listen or the church had failed to preach.  Perhaps both.

The celebration of life mentality has no room for such things as sin and death.  It consoles with the hollow hope of a happy story, a rich memory, and a funny joke.  The fact that we as people have allowed things to get to this point, is testament to our own failure to know the Word of God and heed its truth and wisdom.  Redemption does not celebrate or complete the past and the funeral certainly does not canonize the dead.  Redemption answers sin with the blood of Christ that cleanses us from sin, rescues us from God's punishment for sin by bearing its full weight upon the shoulders of our Savior, and answers death's reign with the triumph of the resurrection.  At the time of death our hope lies not in what we remember about the dead but the promises made in baptism, affirmed in faith, lived out at the altar rail, and sealed in the death that is not death anymore.  The funeral, like the Mass or Divine Service, nurtures us in this faith by recalling our baptismal gift, rehearsing the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, feeding us upon the body and blood of our Lord, and teaching us how to live out this new identity as the people of God now, in preparation for everlasting life.

Who failed this family?  If their church was not preaching and teaching this Gospel, the church failed them long before the funeral.  If this was the preaching and teaching of the church but they refused to hear or failed to listen or chose the empty comfort of a life celebrated rather than the resurrection of the dead, then the family bears the responsibility.  This is exactly why preaching matters, why teaching is so important, why knowing the Word of God is key, and why we grieve not as the ignorant who have no hope, only a memory.

Could the priest have done better?  Of course.  But what he said was not the biggest problem.  When the churches fail to preach this Word of God or the people whose to listen to other voices, there is nothing to console our grief, heal our woulds, instill hope in our despair.  We are all sinners.  Nothing new here.  Our hope rests not in a memory but in the fact of Christ crucified and risen.  Our life is hidden with Christ, first through baptism and finally in death.  It is Christ who is at the core and center and it is Christ who gives us a future.  Any words you say other than this are just words but this Word (Christ) has the power to rescue us from the worst moments this life can offer.  I am sad for the family who did not hear this and even sadder for churches where this is not preaching and taught.  God will have something to say to those who refuse to hear but He will also have something to say to unfaithful shepherds who preach no Word or any words in place of the Word made flesh, suffered, died, and rose again.

No comments: