With the pivot of chapter 5, verse 1, this reading continues an exploration of the end we encountered in the other Second Corinthians reading for a funeral.
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.
So we are always courageous,
although we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,
for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Yet we are courageous,
and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.
Therefore, we aspire to please him,
whether we are at home or away.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each one may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body,
whether good or evil.
The Scripture scholar Jan Lambrecht, SJ, wonders about a progression in Saint Paul’s theology of death. He suggests a certain progression starting in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, continuing through 1 and 2 Corinthians, and arriving at a deeper sense with death in Philippians 3:20-21. I don’t think this theological progression is suitable homiletic material for mourners. Unless the deceased was herself or himself a Pauline scholar. But it might influence the suggestions to the mourners. From Professor Lambrecht:
In 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians Paul sees the time period after death still as a state of “sleeping”; in Philippians and presumably in 2 Corinthians as well this situation is depicted as “being with Christ.”
From 2 Corinthians onwards, death before the Parousia belongs to the normal course of events and Paul himself reckons with his own death. In 2 Corinthians he is still somewhat afraid of death; in Philippians he is longing for it.
What does this mean? Today I’d say the more important reflection for a mourning assembly is that the “sleep” after death strikes people as metaphorical. It might really be that the dead are put on hold until Christ’s Second Coming. But after two millennia, that seems like tremendous uncertainty. Billions of believers have died since apostolic times. What they experience is a great mystery. But our ministry to the dying and to mourners has enough obstacles without introducing doubt and wonder.
Does Paul seem afraid in the passage above? I wouldn’t say so. He’s just as focused on the unseen aspects of faith. And his trust in Christ is absolute. He spends a lot of words convincing his Corinthian friends of this. Paul’s earnest appeals in 2 Corinthians may give just enough of an emotional connection to mourners. Personally, I prefer Phil 3:20-21, but you can’t go wrong with this passage above. This reading also has that classic line, reminding us “we walk by faith, not by sight.” That sets up the preacher very well indeed for the proclamation of Christ in the Gospel and the unfolding of the message in the homily. And a Christ-centered message at the funeral Mass is often a welcome word, if handled with pastoral care.