What happens to us after we die? Do we continue to “live?” Is it only the “soul” which continues to exist? Does the body also exist in some other form? These related questions have been fodder for much theological and philosophical discussion for centuries. The Sadducees of Jesus’ time had such questions and, two thousand years later, we continue to have similar questions.
The response to these questions cannot be made by trying to answer each one separately. All these questions arise from a more important one, namely: Who is your God? The answer to this question, as Jesus points out to the Sadducees in the Gospel text of today, determines our belief about the afterlife.
For those, like the Sadducees, who are not able to reconcile with the idea of God as a living God, it is not possible to believe in the Resurrection. For them, everything ends on earth. There is nothing to come later. However, for those who are fortunate to encounter the God made visible in Jesus, the resurrection is not only possible but a fact. This is because the revelation of God is of a God who lives and who wants all to continue to live forever. It is not a revelation of a temporal God or of a limited God. Rather, in Jesus, God is revealed as one who raised Jesus from the dead and who will, in Jesus, raise the whole of creation.
Precisely because Jesus said so little about the nature of life after death, his words in this text are extremely significant. The ones who die in God are children, not of death, but of the resurrection. This is why they will never die again. This is why they will live forever in and with God.
The resurrection from the dead is spoken of also in the first reading of today. The seven brothers are unafraid to face death because they know that, for them, death is not the end. Their image of God is of a God who will raise them. They remain faithful in this life and thus, are sure of God’s fidelity to them in the next life. Rather than place their trust in humans and in temporal rewards, they are willing to die for what they know will be their eternal reward.
Though the scriptures do not tell us about the “how” of the Resurrection, all Evangelists speak of the Empty Tomb and of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. This must be enough for us. However, more than worrying or wondering about the resurrection, we must be concerned about our lives in the here and now. This is why Paul, when writing to the Thessalonians in the second reading of today, exhorts them to be faithful and to keep on doing what they have to do. They need not concern themselves about the future, since through Jesus Christ, God gives eternal comfort and good hope. The hope is that that Lord is faithful and the Lord has shown his fidelity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
To be concerned about our lives in the here and now means living fully in the present moment knowing full well that the future is in God’s capable hands. Though we do not really know what the future holds, we know who holds the future and this must be our motivation and inspiration. Too much speculation about things that are beyond us can lead to unnecessary worry and tension. It prevents us from doing what we have to do. If we keep in mind that our present will determine our future, then instead of worrying about tomorrow and the afterlife, we will ensure that we live fully today and in this life.
This is why for us, as disciples of Jesus, death is not something to be feared or dreaded. It is only a transition from this life to the next. Even Jesus had to die in order to be raised. It is a necessary condition for us to enjoy the eternal life that God has in store for us. Though there is nothing in us as humans that is naturally or inherently immortal, God’s gift of life after death makes us immortal. This is why we also can say, like the 17th Century poet, John Donne, “One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”
Following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us to eternal life, we trust in the indestructibility of the bonds of love that join us with God. Since it was God who invited us into this covenant relationship, surely God will see that this bond endures through death and beyond, whatever that beyond might hold. We believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.