“They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” Words from our Gospel today from the 20th chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The Gospel begins by saying those who came forward to question Jesus were a group known as the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. No belief in the resurrection: that is why they are so Sad-You-See? Ok, that’s a bad pun, but now you won’t forget it! In any event, at the time of Jesus there were several groups who had varying positions on how the Jewish Faith was to be practiced. To give us a little background, in this corner were the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection as we heard. Additionally, for the Sadducees, religious practice revolved around ritual and worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem, and they upheld a very literal interpretation of the Torah. And in this corner, the Pharisees were another Jewish group who in contrast to the Sadducees practiced the faith at the local synagogues, upheld the oral tradition as well the Scriptures, and believed that life continues after death. The Pharisees and Sadducees were always engaging in debates with one another. And that is how Jesus gets dragged into the argument of today’s Gospel because they want to know where he stands on things.
And while Jesus stands in opposition to the Sadducees, Jesus doesn’t quite identify with the Pharisees position either as his response goes beyond what the Pharisees would have taught regarding what the resurrection means. If we follow Jesus’ line of thinking, we would hold that life after death is not merely a continuation of this current earthly life, but a higher calling altogether with livelihood as God’s own children, living like angels, already in full communion with each other and so in love with everyone that even marriage is rendered obsolete. If we look at the resurrected Jesus, who appeared to his disciples after the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we get a glimpse into what this looks like and means. Jesus is still himself of course and there are characteristics that perdure, certainly. He has the nail marks on his hands and feet. He converses and eats food with his disciples; he moves boulders and starts fires. He is not simply a spiritual being or a ghost – indeed, we believe in the resurrection of the Body, but it is a glorified body. Because of this higher calling, his disciples and followers have trouble recognizing him at first when he comes into their midst; we see that he has all knowledge over history and time; in his glorified body Jesus can walk through locked doors; he can appear and disappear, coming and going at will, even flying up to heaven. Jesus, says of himself, “I am the resurrection, and the life: if you believe in me, even though you die, you shall live.” It is an invitation into our future life.
But belief in the resurrection doesn’t just change our destiny, it also gives shape to how we live here and now. According to our readings today, it affects how we look at:
Pain and Suffering and Death: Each of the seven Maccabees brothers of our first reading endured their sufferings bravely and with hope because they knew that there was more in store worth dying for. With belief in the resurrection, they were able to give their pain and suffering meaning and purpose as a witness to the importance of one’s faith and morality, as well as a witness to their staunch hope that this was not the end for them. Indeed, their hope ended up sparking the rebellion that overthrew the Greek occupation of their country and restored their religious freedom, the remembrance of which is celebrated annually in the Jewish feast of Hanukah. For us Christians, there is also the idea of redemptive suffering. We can find great meaning in offering up our own pains to Christ as a powerful intercessory prayer, for in uniting our sufferings to the Passion of Jesus we are participating in his suffering on the cross which redeemed humanity, freed us from sin, and brought new life into our world. The pain and suffering and death of this present world is transformed by the resurrection.
The political world: With the understanding of the resurrection, the Maccabees brothers were again able to acknowledge where their true loyalty belonged. There are the rulers of this world, governments and powers setup for the ordering of the common good of humanity. But our true citizenship as they acknowledge is in heaven, and our ultimate king is the Lord God. We thus have a duty now to form our consciences for faithful citizenship, letting the reign of God and the Kingdom of God break into the earthly realm. Our view of politics is shaped by the resurrection.
Morality and Justice: Even if justice isn’t realized in our present world, we know because of the resurrection that there is no escape from getting one’s due. St. Paul saw people’s wickedness as an obstacle to the spreading of the Good News, but knew that, because of the resurrection, God will overcome these things in the end and deliver those who are oppressed. Thus, we need to carry on doing good and keep the faith to obtain the rewards of heaven. The Maccabees brothers, when they wouldn’t transgress kosher practices nor give up their faith, are an example for us of what it means to persevere and to live moral lives. So, morality is also affected by the resurrection.
Marriage and Relationships: Part of the Sadducees’ argument in their hypothetical situation of remarrying in the family without having any children was because they held – in absence of a belief in life after death – that someone’s essence would live on in and through their descendants on earth and consequently being barren was a curse. Well, the resurrection changes that. Indeed, the resurrection reveals that the ultimate goal of marriage is actually to help get each other to heaven. In Jesus’ argument, he recalls that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive to God, and so for Moses and for all of us, we know that God’s promises and the relationships we are a part of all continue beyond death. At the funeral liturgies we proclaim, “for those who believe in your love, death is not the end, nor does it destroy the bonds you forge in our lives.” By the same token, the life that is created and shared in families and in our other relationships besides is a foretaste and sharing in the resurrected life of heaven towards which we are striving.
These are but a sampling from our readings of what the resurrection changes – indeed it changes everything. This is a revolution greater than any other. The future is breaking into today, opening up the possibility of new life in everything that we do, if we are open to it in faith.