- Hebrews 12:1-4
- Psalm 22:26-32 (Responsorial)
- Matthew 8:17 (Alleluia)
- Mark 5:21-43
Quid turbamini, et ploratis? puella non est mortua, sed dormit.
What is this stir, this weeping? The child is not dead, she is asleep.
When I was a kid, the movie “Phantasm” was one that totally wrecked my world in the way that would give you creepy dreams and destroy decent nights of sleep. It is a very good horror film – a classic of the genre. But it has a most interesting plot twist (Spoiler Alert) in that after finding all the ways a local mortician has been making the dead into Zombies and killing everyone to sell them into slavery, the main character wakes up to discover the whole thing has been a dream, crafted in his mourning, to deny the death of his parents. (Then the movie throws another twist and everyone screams… and the credits roll.)
This is one of those things about which the Eastern Church seems to get hyper pious: “Our brother has fallen asleep in the Lord.” It seems nearly like a “taboo”, one of those superstitions ingrained in the culture of Russia and/or Greece that has just carried over. But it is something else, something more important. Saying “The Child is not dead, she is asleep” (as elsewhere Jesus says, “Our friend, Lazarus, sleepeth.”) and this all means so much more.
St Bede the Venerable says “For to men she was dead, who were unable to raise her up; but to God she was asleep, in whose purpose both the soul was living, and the flesh was resting, to rise again. Whence it became a custom amongst Christians, that the dead, who, they doubt not, will rise again, should be said to sleep.”
That is our take right now: people are dead and gone. We don’t render them honors and obsequies in the way we used to because it is for us, the living, that we have funerals now. Even in some churches that should know better, we have “Celebrations of Life” and “Mass of the Resurrection”.
The Christian story is so much more hopeful than that. Even in life, we are in the midst of death – the real death of sin. And yet whosoever believes in Jesus shall never die the real death – the death of the soul. We will all sleep, though.
The vision we have of reality is distorted by our emotions, warped by our sins, and, not surprisingly, twisted by our words. I say this is not surprising because God made the whole world with his word and we are made in his image. How we speak and what we say is of profound importance. I do not mean that we “make our own reality”. But our heart does live in a reality created by our spiritual life – which last includes our words as well as our thoughts. So: if (in spite of our pious language) we speak as though someone were “Dead and gone” never more to be, just flat out dead – our heart grieves.
It needn’t be so. We can know the life in which we stand. This is the Word of God speaking. We are in death. But Life, himself, says “this is sleep.” Of another thing (speaking of the Eucharist) St Thomas has written:
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
I prefer Hopkins’ rendering even though Pusey’s sings better. I will stick with it, “Truth himself speaks truth or there’s nothing true.” This line is, I think the foundation of so very much. At RCIA class last week what I heard over and over is “Why do we do it this way? Because he (Jesus) said to.” It may seem a bit simplistic. It may be, in fact, too little depth for many folks. But it is the truth. It is the only reason to do something.
In a world there there no truth at all it is refreshing to do something simply out of obedience, simply because of one’s choice to submit to divine authority. I’ve been watching a lot of my friends for the last 8 or 9 years being unable to submit to anything but their own feelings. Thus, people who support them in their feelings are “right” and people who don’t support them in their feelings are “haters”. This is true on all sides of the political spectrum. There are those who claim to be Christians, even, who are falling for this emotivist reading of right and wrong. They like some parts of the Bible, but not others. They like some of the things Jesus has to say, but other bits are clearly delusional.
There is only one reason to stand with the outcast: because Jesus forbade us the luxury of enemies. And either the Truth speaks the truth or nothing at all is true.
Thing is if I accept this truth claim, I’ve also got to accept the rest… no divorce, no adultery, no lust in my heart, and this is truly his body, this is truly his precious blood. If I pick the items from the menu that I wish to believe, then, well… I might as well just go out and yell with the others. But if not, well, then: the child is not dead, she is only asleep.