November always, as it should, gets me thinking about my own death. I have been nagging my people about remembering the Church in their will, and I haven't yet written mine. There is not much to leave an icon or two, a few musical instruments, some vestments.
What I want to spell out is my funeral. I am well aware that the Lord has poured out grace upon grace in my life and my response has been pretty mean spirited. I am conscious of the words, "to him who has been given much, much will be expected", well I have been given much.
I have read about saints, I haved lived in the company of saints since my baptism, I have met a few and I am definitely not a saint. Through the grace of God, and the sacraments, I am faithful and one day I will be one of the faithful departed, unless of course I die in mortal sin.
I dread that the modern practice of canonising everyone might creep into my own funeral. I want prayers and lots of them when I die. It might be impossible to stop concelebrants turning up in their white polyester chasubles but
I want the chief celebrant and assistants to wear black,
I want unbleached candles
I want, if possible, a black pall over my coffin
I want the Office of the Dead sung around my coffin
I want the Dies Irae
I want the traditional chants of the Mass
I want someone to preach on the vices of the priest Raymond Blake, the soul who is much in need of our prayer. A friend suggested I might even write the homily myself or even leave a recording, a voice from beyond the grave, a pre-timed recording coming from the coffin! Maybe the best thing might be not to have a homily at all. The alternative is to get a priest who fundamentally disagrees with me to preach.
All this not because I lack hope, not because I don't believe in the Resurrection, on the contrary, it is because I believe in the Body of Christ, in communion with him and his Saints. I believe in the People of God, the multitude coming out of Egypt carrying with them the bodies of the Patriarchs and bringing them into the Promised Land. This is what the Church does for the faithful departed.
Death is not, as that ridiculous poem says, "nothing at all". Death is catastrophic, as Jesus' death was. The gloom of death, the seperation from the living, the decomposition of the grave, the isolation - we go to the grave alone, means death is the ultimate powerlessness. For those who loved the deceased the pain is excruciating, death is something to be feared, it is terrifying. It tears the deceased from the living, as it tears hearts apart, as it tears the soul from the body.
Jesus' death gives hope in tragedy, it changes everything. The dark night is shot through by the eastern rising sun. The stinking flesh of the grave is called to life. The sinner is touched by grace. The black mourning clothes are shot through with gold. And the dead are raised to Life!
And even my death, the result of my sin, Christ will triumph over!