In the Gospels we never see Jesus as an attendee at a funeral. He attends festivals, weddings, and so many dinner parties that people consider him a drunkard. In the Gospel for October 9, He accidentally encounters a funeral procession of the only son of a widowed mother. They meet in the road, and death flees in the presence of Jesus, the source of life.
We attend funerals with tears and mourning. In the Byzantine rite as the casket leaves the church, it meets the Gospel book, the primary icon of Christ in our midst. Then the priest proclaims this Gospel. He bangs the hand cross on the casket to symbolize the life of Christ not given in vain. It reminds us that He has come to bring life to the world.
Although we are all wandering in our own private funeral processions to lonely graveyards, we meet a stranger in the street who knocks on our casket and reminds us to wake up.
When we become numb to the vulgarities, atrocities, and absurdities of the world, we need courage, hope, and wisdom, which we find in the life of our Lord. The proclamation of the Gospel judges the world. Christ comes first in humility as a child. Christ comes second to judge the world through the Gospel of everlasting life. Everything that falls short of mercy and compassion will pass away. The obsceneness of the world hides the love in its midst. We find the kingdom of heaven in the actions of peacemakers, where true power lies.
The procession of the gifts in the Byzantine liturgy mirrors the procession of the Gospel. After the Lord moves through the world, we move through the world. Bread and wine represent hospitality. When the Lord comes to us through His Gospel, we offer Him the gift of ourselves in return. He has judged the world and found it wanting and empty, and He has decided to fill it with life. We receive His mercy first as the down payment to the world. We become living icons in the world by filling the void with compassion and love. When we act as His icons, the Lord stands within us and knocks on the coffin of the world and calls it back to life.
These thoughts come from a homily by Father Daniel at St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas.