I had the honor of taking a detour from my family vacation to return to East Aurora to remember the life of our brother Don Jaehn and to celebrate the hope and peace that comes for Christians through our belief in the resurrection. Allow me to share with you the words of my sermon from his Requiem Mass this past Monday (July 9th):
Don was a man who loved God and loved others; a man who was not shy to live and experience life! When faced with the sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, I know he, like Christ in our Gospel reading today (John 14:1-6), would say, "Let not your hearts be troubled." We miss his smile and the twinkle in his eye; we miss his jokes and witty humor. We miss him, but we must not let our hearts be troubled.
Our hearts are not troubled because we trust in the goodness of God. Our hearts are not troubled because we trust in the promises of Christ, and the promises of Jesus are promises filled to overflowing with comfort, hope, and peace.
Jesus, when His disciples were lamenting that their good friend and teacher would be leaving them, said that if there was not a place prepared for them when they left this mortal life He would have told them. He told them that He would come again and receive them unto himself. He told them that where He was going there they would go also. Jesus promised His disciples, and has promised us, that this world around us, this world that we see with our eyes and touch with our hands, is but a shadow of the reality and fullness of life that awaits us on the other side of the veil of death.
It can be challenging; there's no denying that. From our very first breath we are conditioned to trust only what we see, and feel, and taste, and smell. Like St. Thomas, we are tempted to ask the question, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" We don't have all the answers. We don't have all the information. We can't comprehend the fullest extent of the wonder that awaits us. We don't have all the solutions to the problems and quandaries we face in life. There is a veil of the unknown and it can be terrifying, but in the end, we know the One that has torn that veil asunder, the One who descended into the depths of hell itself, that this One was raised to life, and in the process, absolutely and completely demolished death and the grave. We look at the unknown, and we can trust that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the one that has paved the way for us to be free from the specter of the unknown of the grave.
I had the honor of being with Don on the day he died to give him last rites, and looking into his eyes, I saw the hope and peace of a man who knows that Christ has conquered the grave. This reality was a part of the marrow of Don's bones; it was part of his identity and the core of his personality. He knew Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, and the result was a life lived in full confidence, joy, and hope of the life of the world to come.
The reality of this life-changing truth is as true now as it was the day Christ rose from the grave, and is expressed well by St. John Chrysostom, as he considered the joy that we can have in the midst of mourning and grief:
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It [that is, death] took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
Let us go forth with hope not fear, because of the resurrection!
(As preached at the Requiem Mass of Don Jaehn on 7/09/18 and published in St. Luke's Weekly Newsletter on 7/11/18)