We believe in Jesus Christ, and him raised from the dead! This is our faith. And it is in this faith that we place our hope in this present darkness.
Roger died young and suddenly. The shock of this death stuns us, it sets us back on our heels. We may even feel like crying out in the words of our Savior, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” How important it is to hear that the very person who saved us from death also cried out in agony to his Father in the face of the darkness of death. Jesus did not sugar coat the reality of death. He knows that in the face of death, especially tragic death, we all feel forsaken by God. But the one who cried out, “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me,” is the same one who inspired the words of Lamentations, “But I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope: The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent.” In the face of death we Christians have hope, because we believe in Jesus Christ who destroyed death.
And it is this hope that our first reading gives us in the face of a young death. “Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the LORD, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.” Roger kept Calendars. He had them all over his house. He scheduled appointments and kept them. But no one can know the day of the Lord’s visitation. As Jesus tells us, “we know neither the day nor the hour.” But even though none of us could have anticipated this day, this event, God, Roger’s Father, is the keeper of our heavenly calendar. Could it be that the Creator of time could not prepare Roger, and us, for the time of Roger’s visitation? Absolutely not! We must remember this: the God who knows every hair on our head is the same God who fills every moment with grace.
God is our Father. God is Roger’s Father. And Roger’s heavenly Father knew that Roger had reached the “fullness of a long career.” Each and every one of you, the thousands of people who have come to this ceremony and last night’s vigil, are a testimony that Roger’s life was not half empty, but it was filled to the brim. For this reason God “snatched” Roger away and he “sped him” to himself because, “Roger was pleasing to him.” But Roger’s heavenly Father, is our father also. In God, our Father, we are not abandoned. Nor are we left without the means live our life with the expectation of seeing Roger again. The God who provides for Roger’s salvation will also provide you with every grace necessary for you to press on.
And press on is what Roger would have us do. The kids told me that Roger had another saying that I didn’t share last night, “You’ve got to have a plan if you want to win.” How true that is for us now! There is a road that lies ahead of us. But we have to make a plan to travel that road and follow it if we want to win. And what does it mean to win? It means to gain eternal life through the free gift of Jesus Christ. It means to set our sights on the place where we pray that Roger has gone before. We must have our eye on the real prize. As our second reading says, “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” How much work, how much effort, it takes to win in sports. But could it be that gaining the prize of eternal life could be any less effort? Wouldn’t it take more? Isn’t it true that the greater the prize the harder the battle? So St. Paul tells us, “Run so as to win!” To win what? Heaven! And he warns us to not “run aimlessly.” We must run toward heaven and never get distracted. This is what he calls ‘shadowboxing.’ Shadowboxing is when we put our effort into things that do not last, we set our heart on appearances and not realities. No, but St. Paul continues, “I drive my body and I train it for fear that, having preached to other, I myself might be disqualified.” We have heard that Roger was a perfectionist, he always strove to be better. He drove his body and he trained it. But he did so, not for a perishable crown, but for his friends, his family, his children and his God. So too, we must drive ourselves to live a God life and to believe in Jesus Christ who gives us all the promise of eternal life.
Roger lived a godly life. He regularly went to Sunday mass, he visited the adoration chapel, he prayed daily, and he prayed for and with others. In other words, he trained himself for himself for a life of devotion. As we heard in last night’s reading, “Train yourself for devotion, while physical training of limited value training for devotion is valuable in every respect since it holds a promise of life for the present and for the future.” Not only did Roger live a life of devotion but he also lived a life of repentance from sin. Roger asked God for forgiveness and we have this written on paper. He did not consider himself without the need for a savior. Rather, he prayed for forgiveness and he worked to avoid the near occasion of sin. And he lived so that he could offer up his prayers, works, joys and sufferings in union with the offering of Christ. He knew that Jesus Christ is filled with mercy and is always full of forgiveness for us. And it is for this mercy that we are gathered together today. Roger would want us to pray for him. To offer our own prayers, works, joys and sufferings so that God would free him from sin and enter him into eternal life. And it is in this hope of mercy that we too must live. God’s mercy endures forever! And, although God’s ways are mysteries to us, we have this faith in Jesus Christ: that we who live for Christ will die in Christ and Christ will raise us to eternal life!
Roger’s death confounds us. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ confounds death! I say it again, we believe in Jesus Christ and in him raised from the dead. This is our faith. And in this faith we find the light that destroys the darkness of doubt and fear. How many of us want to say, “My God, My God, why did you forsake me!” “Why did you let Roger die?” But we must hear what scripture tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the death of the living.” My friends hear this clearly! God did not make death – In Jesus, God destroyed death. So where did death come from? That same book tells us, “Through the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” Do not blame death on God but place blame where blame is due: on sin, and on the devil. And the entire reason why Jesus Christ came was to destroy both. By forgiveness he destroys sin and by the cross he destroyed the devil. Olivia told me today that Roger would always cry when he watched the movie the Passion of Christ. That movie tells the story of the climax of our salvation. At the end of it we see the tomb empty and the devil screaming in anger, because Jesus Christ is the true victor of life. And in Jesus Christ we can even taunt death, like a victorious team, saying with St. Paul, “O death, where is your victory. O death, where is your sting. The sting of death is sin… but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” And so we Christians do not “grieve as though we have no hope.” No we face death, even this tragic death, knowing that in Jesus Christ Roger is promised the hope of eternal life.
The book of Hebrews calls Jesus Christ ‘the leader and perfecter of our faith.’ In other words, he is our coach. And through his resurrection Jesus, our heavenly coach, is the first one to cross the only uprights truly matters: the gates of heaven. And we who believe in Jesus know that where he has gone we hope to follow. This is why we are praying for Roger today: that, forgiven of his sins, he can dwell with Jesus for all eternity.
And from there, with Jesus, he can watch over us while we are here on earth. The kids know what this means. Roger installed a crazy-powerful tracker on the Olivia’s phone. Because of it Roger knew where she was, if she was in safe-zones or unsafe-zones, or how fast she was going. But now, even though Roger has gone before us, being purified and united to Christ, Roger is still able to track you children from heaven. And up there, like he did while he was with you here on earth he preparing a home for you. And, who knows, maybe he will even have a banner ready for you on the day of your own birth into eternal life.
Now it is our turn live in the faith that destroys death. It’s our turn to drive ourselves to win imperishable crowns. It’s our turn to train one another in lives of devotion (remember, there is no ‘I’ in team.) Finally, it is our turn to make a plan to accept Jesus Christ as our savior and to live so as gain the prize of everlasting life.