Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you ready for the resurrection?

One day, a zealous young preacher came upon a farmer working in his field. Concerned for the farmer’s soul the preacher asked, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?” Not even looking up at the preacher the farmer replied, “No sir, these are soybeans.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of interest, the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be lookin’ for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.” The determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?” “No sir! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer. Frustrated the preacher asked, “Are you prepared for the resurrection?” Finally, this caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?” Thinking he had accomplished something the preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.” Wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”

Are you prepared for the resurrection or, another way, what happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? Is death simply the end, like a candle that has burned down to its last? Or if there is life after death, what is it like? I’m sure there isn’t one among us who hasn’t asked these questions at some point in our lives. It’s timely to think about these issues on this November Sunday as the leaves have fallen, our vibrant blue skies have turned gray and the vegetation around us comes to its end. It is a good time to hear today’s Gospel and Jesus’ own words about what lies beyond earthly death.

The resurrection from the dead is the most central part of what Jesus came to bring us. “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” Many people today think that being a modern Christian includes jettisoning the belief in things that cannot be scientifically proven – like resurrection. After all, when was the last time some one you know rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But what people like this don’t realize is that this questioning of the resurrection is not modern at all. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely Jesus second favorite target after the Pharisees, the Sadducees.

In today’s gospel, some Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with the story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.

Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life whereas Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. There is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for ultimate extinction. God does not breathe life into life like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.

Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fearful understanding of death. Our belief is based on the very nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. Why? Because it is the effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism. Materialism focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, the accumulating of money, the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at that and says, “so what?” Our God loves us individually. He has counted even the hairs on your head He knows you so well, and He wants you to be with Him forever. The story is told of an American tourist who visited an old Italian priest. Astonished to see that his home was only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Father, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” came the reply. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” The priest smiled and said, “So am I.”

What will heaven look like? We simply don’t know. We have to wait and get there to find out, and that should be our goal, not our fear. The day we were baptized reaches its fulfillment in the day we return to Heaven, a full circle – you have come from God and will return to God. All we can say is that in heaven we will be as happy as is possible for us to imagine, because we will be in the direct presence of that God who is Love itself. Heaven is God’s best kept secret, God’s special surprise for us.

Let us thank God today for revealing to us the mystery, the wonder, the joy of the resurrection. Let us reaffirm our belief in the life of the world to come, since this is the most effective means to escape the stranglehold of materialism in our lives here on earth. Do we understand exactly how things will be in the life of the resurrection? Certainly, not. For we are talking about “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Jesus does not give us the final answers about heaven, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. The Eucharist we celebrate today and every day is our best means for preparation. Here today we receive a foretaste of the happiness we hope to share forever with the God of the living.

“The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

May God give you peace!

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