When I lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation I was particularly taken with the Native American custom of “wokiksuye”, the memorial, the one year celebration of a person’s passing into eternal life. The family of the deceased puts on a huge feast and food distribution, gives gifts to the community, and distributes cakes after showing them and photographs of the deceased to all. All this is done to honor the deceased person, to show appreciation for the support of the community, and to dry the tears of the mourners.
I put on one of these memorials at Oglala for my mother and father who had died, my mother some time ago and my father whose one year memorial was that month. It felt right to do. My middle sister Paulette and her husband came up from Texas to attend the event.
Part of the memorial is to give speeches about the deceased. I had in my head that we would skip this part since neither of my parents had ever been to the reservation and this was the first time anyone had met members of my immediate family. However, at the appropriate time one of the elders stood up and said “I never met Fr. Ray’s mother and father but I do know Fr. Ray very well so I can tell you a lot about his parents.” She then gave a very beautiful speech about both my parents that was amazingly accurate.
I always remember that moment and think of it when I read this passage from John. If we know Jesus, who is human and divine, we know God. When we see Jesus merciful we know God is merciful. When we see Jesus compassionate we know God is compassionate.
When we rejoice that Jesus is raised to life in a world of violence and dissent and factionalism yet also a world of love and compassion and mercy we know that God will raise us up too.
This also puts a responsibility on us. If the world is to know the Father and Son then the world will look to us. We too must not only learn through Jesus but also teach through the example of our seeking peace, compassion, forgiveness and a willingness to ask to be forgiven.
This is the Easter mystery and reality.
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