Today is 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. That means that the Church’s liturgical year is coming to an end. November 20 is the Solemnity of Christ the King and the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Church gives us Scripture readings on these last Sundays that ask us to reflect on the end of our lives and the end of our world
In the Profession of Faith which we say every Sunday, we confess that we believe that, after Jesus suffered and died, “he rose again on the third day.” We also say: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” In other words, just as Jesus rose from the dead, we too will be raised up. Our loved ones will rise from the dead, we will also rise, and there will be a grand reunion that will last for eternity.
This is an important part of Christian belief. So much of our faith depends on this event. However, it is not a traditional Jewish belief, although around the time of Jesus, the group called the Pharisees believed in a type of resurrection. However, others did not (the Sadducees, for example). They bitterly disagreed on this belief. In today’s gospel, they are trying to draw Jesus into the debate.
Their example borders on the ridiculous. A woman has seven husbands in her life time and they are asking Jesus who will be here husband in eternity. They want details that explain what happens when we are raised. Those details are hard to come by.
Many images have been used throughout history to try to describe what resurrection means. Many people have tried to describe heaven. Likewise, many have tried to describe hell.
Heaven is described as a beautiful place. It is a life free from suffering and pain. We see God face-to-face. We will be happy forever. Poets and theologians have used all kinds of beautiful images to describe it. But our human words and images are inadequate to describe something outside of our experience, not to mention outside of space and time.
Hell has been described as the complete absence of God. In many ways, our descriptions paint it as the opposite of heaven. We will live forever but it will be eternal misery. Again, many authors and artists have tried to use images to describe hell. We think of the great poet Dante and so many artists like Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sitine Chapel. But, once again, our human words and images are inadequate to describe something outside of space and time
We can say with certainty what resurrection is NOT: Resurrection is not just a coming back to life. That is the definition of resuscitation. It is not like an out-of-body experience. It is different from the raising of Lazarus in the fourth gospel. Lazarus comes back to the same limited human life that he was living before he died. He will continue to experience all the struggles, pain, sufferings and limitations that are a part of life on this earth. He will eventually die again.
Also resurrection is not a reincarnation. We were each created uniquely by God. God created our being, our soul, he did not use something or someone else. We will always be ourselves. We do not become a rock, or a snake, or a tree. Reincarnation is not compatible with Christian teaching about resurrection. You will always be you… for all eternity
We can affirm the most basic and important fact: we will all rise from the dead. Death belongs to the realm of mystery, so we cannot explain it all. But Jesus assures us that we will all rise and live forever. We will be judged upon our faithfulness to the call we have received.
There is a continuity between this life and the next life. Yet our bodies will be transformed. As the Preface of the Dead reminds us: “For your faithful people, Lord, life is changed not ended.” Our human language is inadequate to explain what this change will be, but we have the promise of Jesus. We also have his own resurrection from the dead as a concrete basis for our hope. We know we will live forever. By his resurrection Jesus has conquered death. We know it is a life free of the struggles of this life. Jesus has overcome sin and the effects of sin
We know we will be reunited with our loved ones. Jesus will gather us around the throne of God in heaven. We know it will be happiness beyond our imagination. As St. Paul says: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”