Of all Paul’s letters, Second Corinthians is the most intimate, the most revealing of the man, and the most emotional in terms of what we see in the apostle’s trials and sufferings. Not unlike the human spirit encountering the death of a loved one. Raw feelings–even discontent and anger may rule the day.
It is not surprising that the funeral Lectionary draws upon the apostle’s reflections on suffering for two readings used somewhat commonly. As Paul shares his experience of suffering, he places Christ at the center of it to give it substance and meaning. Another common theme of the New Testament is the notion that suffering is redemptive and can point to the grace and power (glory) of God.
We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.
Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance
on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.
Therefore, we are not discouraged;
rather, although our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this momentary light affliction
is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
beyond all comparison,
as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen;
for what is seen is transitory,
but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent,
should be destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a dwelling not made with hands,
eternal in heaven.
Perhaps we tire of Saint Paul’s complaints in Second Corinthians. But I think the apostle places his discontent in two important contexts. First he has hope. He focuses on the unseen and the eternal. Beyond the senses, and beyond the logic of the world, the apostle urges believers to look to a final experience that cannot compare in weight or in time with the present-day afflictions.
Most importantly, he also places Christ at the center of his sufferings. Christ brings purpose to affliction, as he has experienced it himself. And it is through the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of Christ, that we are able to have hope. It’s not a logical thing. But it is a reality we celebrate and remember at every Mass. God’s offer of grace to his people is real. What happened to Jesus Christ is real. What happens to our beloved deceased is real. And we have hope to follow in these footsteps.
If mourners are ready for it, this is a good message. Hope is difficult, though. Sometimes it’s easier to preach on love or faith. Not that love and faith are easy, but in comparison, I think many of today’s cultures have great difficulty with hope. And perhaps we affluent of the First World, most of all.