Funeral Lectionary: Romans 8:14-23

Toward the end of Saint Paul’s “Gospel of Hope” (Romans chapters 5 through 8) another very appropriate passage for the funeral liturgy:

Those who are led by the Spirit of God
  are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
  to fall back into fear,
  but you received a spirit of adoption,
  through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”
 
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit
  that we are children of God,
  and if children, then heirs,
  heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
  if only we suffer with him
  so that we may also be glorified with him.
 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time
  are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
  the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
  not of its own accord
  but because of the one who subjected it,
  in hope that creation itself would be set free
  from slavery to corruption
  and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
 
We know that all creation is groaning
  in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
  who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
  we also groan within ourselves
  as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

The Jesuit Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne sees this section of Romans 8 as a transition from the “ethical sequence” (Rom 6:1-8:13) into a new argument addressing the experience of the suffering believer. It is natural, it is human for us to utter the protest, “Why me?!” Bad things still happen to good people. At the time of a funeral, we might apply this wonder to the deceased, if the death is judged unjust. Or we might struggle with the loss ourselves as mourners.

At any rate, one strong foundation is Paul’s stress on the familial relationship between God and believers. As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are grafted into God’s divine family. This was certainly how the Israelites saw themselves, as children of God. Paul underscores our reason for hope: the grace of Christ, and the very witness of the Holy Spirit in our midst. The intimate “Abba” is a cry from within the believer–it is seen as a sign of the Spirit at work, and affirming the new nature of our relationship with God.

As Paul moves to address the nature of the suffering believer, he acknowledges the experience of evil. But he brings in a more graphic image of the family, that of childbirth. Our adoption into the Trinity is not just a legal thing: sign a document, conduct a ritual, and we’re in for life. The experience of Christian faith is much more. We are not passive spectators. We can expect painful tribulation. Just like Jesus experienced it. But Christ’s triumph over death gives us all the more reason to hope that as his sisters and brothers, we too shall be saved. God cannot, would not go back on his promise to his daughters and sons.

It seems to me that a funeral may find the preacher addressing one of the three virtues, faith, hope, or love. Faith is difficult, and a funeral homily on it is beset with difficulties, usually. Love is easy enough, I suppose. But the quality many of us need the most at the time of death–our own or someone else’s–is hope. Why not leap into that misunderstood virtue, and address the conrete needs of family and mourners?

What do you think?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Funeral Lectionary: Romans 8:14-23

  1. Karl says:

    Well, of course, love is not easy. Love at the end of life includes a supermarathon of giving and receiving of many hard things that may be all the harder if you haven’t trained for it by the constant practice of sacrifice, most especially seemingly irrational sacrifice.

    As for faith: instead of thinking about it propositionally, it’s better to understand it in Pauline terms – faith is ultimately the conviction (which is not the sames as certitude) that hope works, and is expressed in a kind of trust that allows room for love to grow.

    To my sense, at least, the foundation is hope (which may be engendered by one is receiving love*), from which flows faith, and out which love may grow; like the Holy Trinity, there is a dynamic perichoresis here, so we should avoid overemphasis on linearity.

    * And the foundation being hope helps explain to my why despair is so spiritually lethal.

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