By Javier Soegaard
If you go to any parish, you can find books which offer easy suggestions for Scripture readings to fit nicely with major events in your life. There are readings for graduations, ordinations, weddings, funerals, and any event you can really think of. Graduation readings have to do with promise and potential; ordination readings have to do with service and sacrifice. Wedding readings have to do with love and bliss; Funeral readings have to do with sorrow and comfort—or so I thought.
At three points over the summer, I heard the same section of John 15 proclaimed: twice at weddings, the third time at a funeral. While occasionally the length of the excerpt varied, each instance contained this marvelous section:
As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you (John 15: 9-12).
I was startled when the priest began to read this at the funeral. It had made perfect sense at the weddings—it was about love, joy, and intimate relationships. Why then did it seem strangely appropriate for a funeral as well? How could the same words speak so powerfully to such radically different situation?
Well that’s the funny thing about God’s Word, isn’t it? It permits no sort of tidy compartmentalization. Of all the pages it has longed to grace, it certainly never intended to be written for those (somewhat) helpful books which distinguish wedding readings from funeral readings, First Communion readings from Blessing of the Animals readings. Life is not some staccato collection of isolated events, even less so are the Scriptures.
Rather, the Scriptures talk about life in its fullness and complexity, in its grayness and constant preference for paradox rather than simplicity. They paint a picture of life where grace works amidst sin, the weak prevail against the strong, and the Lord of Life conquers through his own death.
It is a wisdom that emerges not in a flash, but from its method of composition: employing dozens upon dozens of writers over thousands of years, each building upon the work of the past and hoping for the good of future generations. It is a labor borne out of patience and the courage to discern God’s presence and salvation even in the most harrowing situations.
And so our expectations are challenged. Scripture recasts the black-and-white world where weddings are nothing but bliss and funerals naught but comfort. It reminds us that the message of God’s love in Christ—God’s desire for us to be with him now and always—transcends the boundaries erected by the norms of sentiment.
This does not mean Scripture asks us to be weepy during weddings or do jigs during funerals (although if you put a few Irish people in a room, you can never be sure what will happen). What it does remind us, however, is to be more patient and more critical with the way we let Scripture interpret our lives. God’s Word is always a comfort and a challenge. It allows for no piecemeal, cut-and-paste approach to its wisdom. Rather, it always invites us into the bigger narrative of God’s unending love for his creation and calls us, in our vocations, to be heralds of this tremendous message.