What happens when we die?
A Reflection for Saturday of the Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time
“The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die.” (Lk 20:27-40)
What comes after death? I oscillate between two responses to this question, which others may have experienced as well. The first is to simply ignore it—after all, who really knows, and what good will worrying about it do? The prudent course, this thinking goes, is to live as best I can and hope for the best when it’s all over.
The second response is to take up a bit of an obsession with the details. What should I be expectinging in terms of post-death accommodations? Jesus says there are many rooms in his Father’s house, which is not exactly the level of specificity I’m looking for. And that whole “time in purgatory” thing—are we talking two weeks or two millennia?
This is the line of thinking in today’s Gospel (which, you may remember, is the same Gospel we heard on Sunday two weeks ago) from the Sadducees, who are really hammering Jesus about the details of the afterlife. They draw up an enormously complex, hypothetical knot for him to untangle involving seven brothers’ marriages to the same woman. “Now at the resurrection, whose wife will that woman be?” The intent of their question is, presumably, to strike a blow to the theory that there is any life beyond death.
In my own attempts to make sense of the afterlife, I often look at the world around me as a reference.
I am sympathetic to their question; not understanding the details of how something works can be a real stumbling block for us. But Jesus knows this, and it is why he chooses not simply to satisfy our intellectual curiosity with his response. Instead, Jesus says simply, look at God.
In my own attempts to make sense of the afterlife, I often look at the world around me as a reference. I ask whether this hobby or that relationship or my favorite pet will make the journey with me to (hopefully) the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus, this is the wrong question; eternal life with God is not meant to be a slightly upgraded version of Earth. If we want to approach an understanding of the resurrection, he tells us, then God needs to be our reference point rather than the material world. And who is this God? What does Jesus tell us? “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
The invitation and challenge is for us to trust in this God of life as one who truly desires to be with us for all eternity, even without knowing all the juicy details. This God of life is the foundation of our hope for the life to come.