Though I had driven by the place a hundred times and not seen it, this time it caught my attention. A five-by-three-foot sign facing oncoming traffic, permanently emplaced at the front corner of a residential yard, in a raised bed of flowers, stones and other memorabilia. On it was a large photograph of a young boy and some text, clearly as a memorial of some sort.
You have seen them as you drive, I am sure. A small white wooden cross along the interstate, perhaps at a perilous curve, where some unfortunate lost her life in a crash. Or maybe flowers and teddy bears stuck into the cyclone fence overlooking the scene of a fatal rail accident. They make me sad.
But my sadness is not simply for the lost lives, but also for the confusion of the bereaved evident in their attempts to memorialize the place their loved one died, or to draw the attention of passersby to the sad event. There is a confusion about where we are able to connect with someone who has died, a confusion about what we are able to treat with the reverence and respect that our love wishes to offer. Just as a hint, I’ll tell you this: the accident scene is not it.
We who are Christians revere and respect the body of the faithful departed; not only our beloved dead, but of all who died in Christ. We retrieve them with care and clean them and prepare them, then gather around them to pour out our love for them, which continues even after their earthly lives have ended. We bear them carefully to their place of rest. That place is what we mark with a memorial of their identities, so that not only we but all who pass may be near to them and pray for them by name.
(We are) always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:10)
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen. (The Apostle’s Creed)
The risen and ascended Jesus has united our flesh to his own by the bath of rebirth and the sealing with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and because “you are what you eat,” by feeding us His own body and blood. Already, eternal life is in us. When death claims us from this world, the flesh of the deceased goes down into death, where Jesus has already led in His flesh, but bears within it already the life that will raise it on the last day. Did you know that the word “cemetery” is unique to Christianity, and rooted in the Greek that means the same thing as “dormitory” – a place to sleep? Their flesh will be raised. Thus, our most immediate link to the eternity in which we desire our loved one to dwell is the very body of our dead loved one.
The Apostles and Evangelists testify not only the resurrection of Jesus in his body, but also to his glorious Ascension into heaven – in the body. Lest we think that that was a privilege or prerogative unique to the divine Son, we also have the testimony of the earliest believers to the marvelous revelation of what our flesh is for in what became of the immaculate flesh of the Mother of that same Son.
This we profess and celebrate as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. You will have no trouble finding the time of a Mass you can attend on this Holy Day, August 15, Tuesday of this week. Because this is what we respect and revere, it is our “obligation” to keep the day holy.
In this great consummation of God’s gracious love for Mary, we see his what He has in His mind for us, as well; what our bodies are truly and finally for: eternity, glory, and intimate communion with God. Direct your attention to this reality in your own body, and in the bodies of your beloved dead – and not just a drive-by, either.