Funeral Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-11

As I continue to experience new readings at funeral Masses, be they for popes or parishioners, I’m struck by the quality of some of the passages presented for consideration by people.

Most recently, the family of one of our founding members suggested Isaiah 40:1-11 as an Old Testament scripture for their matriarch’s funeral. The pastor eagerly accepted it, as did I. I’m familiar with the citation, and the passage’s use from Handel to the Saint Louis Jesuits. A bit long and maybe scattered in how it treats the theme of consolation, but a very rich narrative for an occasion of death. What do you make of it:

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service has ended,
that her guilt is expiated,
That she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

Thinking of the return from Babylon for the Jews, the Church often speaks of exile, and prays in the midst of it:

after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.

There is a word from heaven, suggesting more of the common Biblical theme that God will upend human expectations. What was once low will be high; what was once overlooked will be uplifted, and so on. For the loss of a loved one to death, the overturning of mourning, suffering, and death into joy, peace, and life in God.

A voice proclaims:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A voice says, “Proclaim!”
I answer, “What shall I proclaim?”
“All flesh is grass,
and all their loyalty like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.”
“Yes, the people is grass!
The grass withers, the flower wilts,
but the word of our God stands forever.”

The prophet hears the call for the return from Babylon. Translating to the funeral, does the message of withering grass strike you as too negative? It’s certainly a dose of reality for mourners. Can they get past it to realize God and his Word is eternal?

Here, the prophecy that introduces the Book of Consolation in Isaiah offers a message of comfort and confidence, capped by the loving and tender care of God.

Go up onto a high mountain,
Zion, herald of good news!
Cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Cry out, do not fear!
Say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
Here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
Carrying them in his bosom,
leading the ewes with care.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Funeral Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-11

  1. Liam says:

    Words of comfort that elide loss and grief are … less comforting.

    To put it in a secular commonplace: “He’s/She’s in a better place” without any word of condolence.

    • Todd says:

      True enough. But not every part of the Church’s liturgical ministry can hope to be all things.

      In this instance, the context was a person active in church and community who was slowly eroded by infirmities of various kinds. The weakening and the pandemic were a kind of exile for the deceased. The expectations of relief and release were in keeping with the family’s experience, both of their matriarch and of their faith.

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