Last week we celebrated a funeral for one of the parishioners here in Jamaica. The woman had been sick for a long time, so she was now free from the pain and in God’s loving embrace.
The Jamaicans have interesting traditions for funerals. Since most people in Jamaica are not Catholic, the mass is separate and only for the Catholic members of the family, so the mass is usually in their home. A second, much larger funeral is held for everyone to come. The floor is open to anyone who wants to share a story about the deceased, so the funerals can take some time. Afterwards, there are large parties.
I went to the funeral mass for the parishioner at her home. There were about 30 people there. Everyone barely fit into the room; the chairs were so close to each other that it was difficult to stand. A refrigerator, table, cabinet, and couch took up a lot of space in the room. But even among all of these common household objects, there stood Father Max preparing for mass.
I immediately thought of the Last Supper. Jesus in a normal room, surrounded by his disciples that he loved, broke bread and poured wine, thus instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist before he was condemned to die. That made the funeral mass even more powerful—we were gathering as a community to celebrate this woman’s life and death, but also rebirth through the Eucharist into the Kingdom of God.
We could hardly move but we sat stone still listen to Father and the friends and family talk about the departed, but it made the tiny room teem with a sense of community. This also reminded me that in the early days of Christianity most Christians celebrated mass by holding it in their homes to avoid persecution by the Romans. Even the disciples locked themselves into their homes the first time they celebrated after Jesus’ death. Jesus came to them in the room and showed the disciples his wounds.
So as we prepare for Easter, we should remember that at every mass when we take part in the Eucharist, we remember that night when Jesus made a covenant with all Christians; that if you eat this bread and drink this cup, you shall have eternal life and be fulfilled through his death and resurrection.