The sting of death for loved ones is the worst stings we can experience in our lives. When we lose someone we love to death, the finality of their physical presence to us is complete. The absence in our hearts is very real. And any rituals and habits we had with them when they were alive will most likely continues for a time after they’ve been lowered into their resting place.
I remember well the many times I went to visit my mother at Notre Dame Longterm Care on Plantation Street over the last few years of her life. I remember I visited so many times, driving up Plantation Street from Interstate 290, taking a right turn into the long driveway, seeing a flock of wild turkeys walking around, drive down back to the Longterm Care building, parking, and walking into the back area where she was cared for so well in a section now called the Harmony Unit, where they care for those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
I also remember all too well after she died in 2008, that whenever I was driving up Plantation St. coming off I-290, whether I was headed to Mercadante Funeral Home for a wake service, or driving up to UMass Hospital for a call on a night where I was the fill-in Chaplain, whenever I drove by the entrance to the driveway for Notre Dame, my car wanted to take a right turn onto the property, as well as my heart and my brain. It took a little while to break the habit and ritual of the right hand turn into Notre Dame Longterm Care.
The sting of death is real, we all know. The separation and absence are real too. But the habits, the rituals, the heart and the mind take some time to adjust to the reality of a loved one who has entered eternity.
Jesus’ prayer in this Gospel is so powerful. If you have some time during the day, read it again. I call it The Prayer of One. There was an old song from the group Three Dog Night – I’m dating myself – with the line, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” That’s the human way only of seeing the number one. Aloneness. Solitary, as in solitary confinement, a punishment. Except if you’re a monk…then it’s a gift. Single – I have to remind people I’m married to the Church so they don’t feel bad for me, and that you are my children. Even if you’re older than me!
But Jesus uses the number one with a very different meaning, where loneliness and singularity are not part of the number. “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one.” “And I have I given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus’ one is not solitary confinement, or being alone or single. Our Lord’s Prayer of One is an entire group of believers. A group of believers with a common goal of living and sharing the Good News that Christ is alive and well.
What does Jesus’ Prayer of One have to do with those we have loved and lost? A couple things.
First, we know the absence is real. We don’t pretend or play games with the truth. We accept the truth and address it. But as we draw close to the end of the Easter season and why we celebrate this holiest of seasons each year, the Risen Lord makes a promise to us that the absence is temporary, and not permanent. We still address the reality of grief and mourning. To avoid that is to put up walls, and pretend like life is the same as before, when it is not.
What stings the most is that the oneness we had between ourselves and those who have died has been broken. Our Lord’s Resurrection promises a fix to the brokenness. Another word for this spiritual fix is hope. Christians live in hope. Yes, we live also in grief, pain, and suffering, like everyone else. There’s no distinction between Christians and others when it comes to grief and suffering. Our distinction from others is hope. The hope that our oneness will be reunited and recreated in Christ Jesus our Lord. His oneness is us being together as one.
Second, Jesus’ Prayer of One, which is a prayer not only for his Apostles, but for all people, is a prayer of consummation. Of coming together.
I sort of chuckle at people who want their mansion in heaven, but they want to put “Do not disturb” sign on the outside of the front door. Or, they want their mansion on one side of heaven and the mansion of the sibling they couldn’t stand on the other side of heaven. Keep them as far apart in eternity as they were in this life. Which is anything but the oneness of Christ. People are really strange.
I have bad news for those who want that separation; in heaven there is no separation; there is only oneness with Christ, and everyone else. If that disappoints those who want separation eternally from former enemies, then there’s only one other eternal place to be. It ends in double hockey sticks. And it’s not Purgatory, because that’s a temporary stop.
The oneness of Christ is an abode, we pray, for millions and billions of souls over the history of humanity. There are those who refuse such love. But many more who seek it.
The Prayer of One spoken by our Lord on this final Sunday of Easter gives us hope. Hope that all is made one in him alone, doing away with the sting of death. We share in his meaning of one through faith and good works. It’s anything but a lonely number in the glory and joy of heaven.