Today’s dramatic readings give hints of the central mystery of human life: what happens when we are dead? It reminds me of a priest friend, reflecting on his father’s death years after the event, who observed, “we sure are dead a long time.” Yes, we are dead a long time, but as followers of Christ we know only our physical bodies are what is dead.
As people of faith, we believe we will rise, as reflected on the inscription on each monk’s head stone at St Anslem Abbey’s cemetery in Manchester, New Hampshire. Above each Benedictine’s name, dates of birth and death are the words “Here will rise.” What a beautiful statement of firm belief.
This belief in resurrection did not develop in the Jewish community until about 200 years before Christ. Every Jew didn’t buy it, including the priestly, aristocratic and merchant classes, collectively known as the Sadducees, who were the clever ones trying to embarrass Jesus in today’s Gospel. They seemed to want to box him in, to sham him and the movement that was developing around him. Maybe they felt threatened, wondering if his followers got the upper hand, they’d be left in a demoted social position.
But Jesus moves away from their literal thinking, which carries a misogynistic element, to a much more inclusive teaching, one that dismisses using a woman as a means to insure a legacy of children for each of the brothers. Jesus observes that Moses taught that life does continue beyond our last breath. And women aren’t just baby makers for men wanting to leave their mark.
No, the resurrection is real and the narrow-minded thinking of confirming one’s worth by fathering children doesn’t fit God’s ways. In fact, Jesus hints, the afterlife will include a transformation of ourselves into angelic creatures, heavenly messengers offering encouragement to the living during life’s most troubling times.
Seeing violence in our streets and in war-torn spots around the globe, witnessing the killing of our planet by global warming, experiencing illness, depression, stress and an inner sense of not- being-good-enough in a consumer, status-conscience culture, can leave even the most faith- filled person wondering if angels will support us, lift us up and sustain us.
In moments of darkness in our lives, only the grace of God can hold and console us. Our most frightening moment comes at the time of our own death, unless we are blessed with the gift Paul wishes for us in the Epistle today: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and straighten them in every good deed and word.”
Let us, in our frightened, confusing and sad moments ask God for this grace to be encouraged and strengthened until the hour of our death.Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.