Do you think about death when you go to church?
This Sunday’s readings deal a lot with death. The widow of Zarephath loses her son to illness. The widow of Nain’s is being buried. The psalmist talks about “going into the pit” and Paul speaks of a three-year exile.
We don’t often go to church to think about death — unless it’s a funeral Mass or Good Friday. However, as Psalm 90 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Reflecting on death can yield wisdom and prepare us for meeting God face-to-face.
Look around at Mass and notice the reminders of our inevitable death. Looming large is the crucifix, reminding us that Christ has gone before us into “the netherworld.”
There is also the baptismal font, where we were buried in Christ so as to rise eternally with him. It is no accident that our casket will pass by the baptismal font. And the white garments worn by the altar servers, deacons and priests also remind us both of the baptismal garment given to us and of the pall that will cover us.
Maybe the windows honor martyrs, who died for the faith. Statues remind us of saints who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith.”
Look at the flowers and plants in the sanctuary. Even as they give off wonderful scents and delight our eyes with color, they are dying and will soon be thrown away.
In the creed we hear about “descending into hell” and the words of the penitential rite plead for mercy.
All this may sound gloomy, just as the readings start on gloomy notes. What could bring more gloom and sorrow than a child dying? However, the readings today do not end on a gloomy note and our death reminders in church should not either.
Every death is touched by life: Elijah prayed for the widow’s son and the breath of life returned to him. Jesus had pity on the widow and touched her son’s hand to give him back, alive, to his mother. Paul became an apostle and lives in divine glory now.
This is what the cross of Christ tells us: “I have conquered sin and death.” He waits to raise us up just as he did in Nain — only this time, it will be to eternal life.
So when you see reminders of death at church, remember to look for the signs of eternal life as well: living water, light shining through windows, living plants, the joy of song and the taste of Christ’s own life given to us at Communion.
Then we can say, with the psalmist: “I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.”
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers.”