YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said, ‘Little children, I am with you only a little longer.’” (John 13:33)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: One of my early childhood memories is attending the 1953 home funeral of Mr. Riley, our elderly next door neighbor. Well, I didn’t actually attend the funeral; rather, I was the 5 year-old gawker sitting on the front steps of 4 South Main Avenue as just yards away at 2 South Main all manner of mystery played out. I watched the sleek black hearse with velvet-draped windows glide to the curb to deliver the now elegantly boxed Mr. Riley. I watched floral delivery vans unload beautiful, fragrant arrangements. I watched black-clad mourners enter and exit the Riley residence. Mind you, this was in the days before many households had TV. Mr. Riley’s home funeral was live entertainment at its best for this curious 5 year-old!
Too young to appreciate the sensitivities of Mr. Riley’s widow and the annoyed mourners who took notice of my morbid interest in the proceedings, I just sat there on our front steps hour upon hour watching all the fuss next door. Mom, busy with my younger siblings inside the house, had no idea that I was in training as a stalking paparazzi right on our front steps. Someone must have snitched, though, for on the morning of the funeral, just as pallbearers solemnly bore Mr. Riley away from his home for the last time, Mom dashed out our front door, snatched me by the arm and wordlessly deposited me on the sofa in our living room. Pushing aside the curtains of the open window, I was mesmerized by the closing scene, the muffled sobbing of black-veiled Mrs. Riley as her coffined husband slid into the hearse, the exit procession of bountiful floral displays heaped onto the open bed of another sleek black vehicle, the headlights of the cortege pulling away from 2 South Main Avenue as it departed our street. This was theatre for sure! At least for a 5 year- old before the days of TV.
Neither Mom nor Dad ever spoke of Mr. Riley’s death. Dad dropped news of the event on the kitchen table at breakfast the morning of the demise with a matter-of-factness that didn’t invite comment. And mom’s wordless actions on the morning of the funeral, kidnapping me from near attendance as a child mourner, gave the clear message that death was a subject that had no place whatever in our household. Period. Yet our faith bids us develop a comfortability with death. Here we are in the Easter season, the time of year that reminds us so powerfully that death does not have the last word. And it’s springtime, the season that annually reminds us that what dies in the fall and sleeps beneath winter’s snow blooms vibrant once again. Indeed, it’s the time to speak of death as a thing defeated!
The setting of today’s gospel passage is Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Wanting to prepare them for the incomprehensible events soon to unfold, “Jesus said, ‘Little children, I am with you only a little longer.’” (John 13:33) Surely, those sitting at table with him could have little idea what he was talking about, but, no doubt, they would recall these ominous words after his death. And even though he appeared to his followers three days after his crucifixion, he was different—somehow more than alive. He’d beat death. And so would they, he promised.
This day and all during this Easter season, Jesus bids his disciples and us, their heirs, to believe that he has forever destroyed death’s power. For us Christians, death is now the doorway to life, not a drear final destination. It’s something I sensed even as a 5 year-old gawking at Mr. Riley’s funeral proceedings. I still remember feeling more curious than scared. In truth, it was mom’s and dad’s silence on the matter that scared me. So, let’s talk about death—but as a thing defeated.