November 6, 2022; Luke 20: 27–38; 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
We believe that God has promised us eternal life. But what is eternal life like? What does it mean to live forever with God? The honest truth is we don’t know. We have some stories about pearly gates and angelic choirs, but these are more rumors than revelation. We know that we are promised to live forever with God, but we have no description of what that condition is.
We can see that Jesus and the Sadducees are struggling with this lack of information in today’s gospel. The Sadducees do not believe in an afterlife. Jesus does. And so they argue with one another. But their arguments are far from clear, and by the time we come to the end of the gospel—after hearing about a woman who married seven brothers and us walking around like angels—I’m not sure we have any clearer picture of the afterlife than when we began. But there is one important exception to this confusion. What today’s gospel makes very clear is that Jesus not only believed in an afterlife but believed in a certain kind of afterlife. Jesus believed in resurrection.
Resurrection was a Jewish belief that a time would come when God would raise up the dead and they would live forever with God in their material bodies. Now their bodies would be transformed and glorified, but they would be their bodies nonetheless. In Christian theology we call this the doctrine of bodily resurrection. And although this is a part of our faith, I would suggest that most of us do not think of it when we imagine the afterlife. We simply suppose that when a person dies their spiritual part, their soul, goes to heaven with God and that’s it. Now at death our souls do go to heaven to be with God. But what resurrection teaches us is that heaven is not our final destination. Heaven is a place where we wait for Jesus’ return. Then the dead will be raised, and we will be reunited to our bodies and again be our full selves. Then, we will live with him forever. And not only us but the entire created world will be raised up and transformed to create a perfect setting for the Kingdom of God.
So, bodily resurrection tells us something important about our afterlife. It will be an embodied existence in which the entire material world will participate. And this allows us to draw a relevant truth to our lives today, because resurrection asserts the goodness and value of the material world. The belief in bodily resurrection was developed by the Pharisees. It is one of several teachings where Jesus agrees with the Pharisees. The way the Pharisees saw it was this. If God created our bodies and the world around us, then these creations were certainly good. And if God were to decide to give us eternal life, that life would certainly include our bodies and the rest of creation.
Therefore, since we are a resurrection people, we should be the first to recognize the goodness of the world around us, the first to see the beauty of creation, and the amazing complexity of natural science. We should be the first to commit ourselves to work against the exploitation and pollution of creation. Since we are a resurrection people, we should be the first to recognize the goodness of our bodies, the amazing way in which they allow us to hear, see, smell, and taste. We should recognize the worth and value of human sexuality and sexual activity, which when properly focused is a profound expression of human love. Since we are a people who believe in the resurrection, we should be the first to stand in awe of all that God has made, because our bodies and our world have an eternal future.