Whom do we gather to remember this day? It is tempting to say the deceased, but I suggest that there is Another to whom we should turn the Holy Three God.
Our Creator is the Father-God of memory. Genesis 9:15 says that God promises to remember His covenant with the earth. In Exodus 2 we read that God sees the pain of Israel, hears their cries, remembers His covenant and comes down to save. Psalm 105 and 111 both declare that the Lord remembers His covenant forever.
What is God’s covenant with us? The Father declares, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As a member of God’s people, we die knowing that even in death God remembers us--this gives us peace in the midst of sadness and loss.
Human memory is a two edged sword, it can make us smile and laugh, but sometimes that sharpens the pain of loss. Memories remind us, but can never restore our lost ones. To "live on" in the memories of others is a shadowy, incomplete existence. But when God remembers we truly live. We die with Jesus and we will live again. So we gather in Memorial Services to remember this Good News.
In the first reading (Philippians 4:4-7) today, Paul writes from a Roman prison, the threat of death hangs over him. Yet the letter is full of joy. He rejoices because he trusts God and he exhorts us ‘to rejoice in the Lord always’ as well. Joy is the fruit of trust and hope. Joy does not depend on our circumstances. We are not happy that our loved ones die, but even in sadness there can be joy. To invite mourners to rejoice is a cruel thing, unless there is good reason. We do have good reason for God is faithful.
Psalm 23, an ancient prayer, expresses this faithfulness eloquently. Even in the dark valley of death we do not fear, for God the Shepherd is always with us. How many millions have drawn strength from this psalm, facing their own dark valleys? It is the same faith which Paul gives witness to in 2 Corinthians 4:13-17. We do not lose heart, he says, even if our physical body wastes away and dies, because we believe that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us also.
It is that same Jesus, the one who rose from the dead, who provides us the greatest cause for comfort, peace and even joy today (John 14:1-6). “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus, the night before His crucifixion, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust God. Trust Me.” I have never been crucified but I don’t need to be to know it is a horrible way to die. Yet, Jesus, facing such torture and death, turns instead to comfort us. “Do not fear, do not be troubled, just trust. Trust me because only I can bring you to God. Trust Me.”
This is what we gather to remember. We remember Jesus, who is God Incarnate, is the way and that each of us can choose to be on the way. We remember God is faithful, a Good Shepherd who is always there. We remember these sacred words, “do not be troubled, just trust, do not be troubled, rejoice, do not be troubled, I am the way to God.” Such remembering is good, especially on such a day as this….