SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  2MC 7:1-2,9-14; 2THESS 2:16 – 3:5; LK 20:27-38  ]

As we come towards the end of the liturgical year, our minds cannot but be turned towards the end of time or at least the end of our lives on earth.  Whether we like it or not, we have to face the reality of death and separation especially from our loved ones on earth.  Every separation from those whom we love is heartbreaking, whether in life or in death.  Recognizing this inevitable final destiny of humanity, the Church helps us to prepare for our departure by commemorating those who have gone before us by celebrating All Souls Day and those who have been united with God forever by celebrating All Saints Day.  Like them, we have to face death and judgment followed by our final place in heaven or hell.

Indeed, Christian faith in the resurrection is a source of hope and consolation for us all.  How comforting to know that our life does not end in nothing!  Unlike unbelievers who think that with death, everything is gone.  If that were so then in vain is all our work, our contribution to humanity and the development of the world.  In vain too is all morality and values.   That is why those who do not believe in the next life are basically materialists, living on this world, from this world and for this world.

But Christians go beyond simply having faith in the next life.  It is not sufficient for us to hold that a person has passed on, meaning that something or some essence of that person has passed on to something else which could mean many things.   It could mean that the essence of the person passed on or the soul passed on to another body as in reincarnation.  But it could also mean that only the memories live on in the descendants, or the person’s philosophy continues in the world.

All these perspectives of life after death would be reductionistic for a Christian.  Christians believe not only in the immortality of the soul but in the resurrection of the body.  In other words, not only do we believe that the soul lives on but that our body would be glorified, that physical, corporeal body would be transfigured at the end of time like Jesus the Risen Lord who was raised from the dead by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This faith in the resurrection is proclaimed unambiguously in today’s scripture readings.

In the gospel Jesus defends the truth of the resurrection of the body against the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection.  He puts to rest their objection by citing the scripture text where Moses “calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.”  The corollary therefore is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must be still alive even though they were no longer seen on earth, or else how could God be their God.

But what is the resurrected life?  What will happen after our death?  What kind of bodies will we have?  What kind of life in the next world?  Will we still be reunited with our loved ones?  These are valid questions.  Consequently, the question of the Sadducees regarding the woman who married all of the seven brothers has relevance in helping us to understand the nature of the resurrection.  The response of Jesus was simply that the resurrected life is simply different from this life.  There is a transformation in the quality of life, both body and soul.

Does it mean to say that those of us who are married or have children or have soul mates and confidante in this life will in the next life be unable to recognize them or at least no longer be united in intimacy as on earth?  Of course not!  On the contrary, the intimacy and love in heaven will be stronger and more intense than ever.  For on this earth, regardless how much we love another person, this love is still tainted with selfishness, possessiveness, fear and inadequacies.  In heaven, we will be totally loving and giving to each other, not just to our loved ones but with all peoples, since love in heaven will no longer be exclusive but inclusive, will no longer be limited by human weakness but be filled with the Spirit of God, will no longer be temporal but everlasting, will no longer be uncertain but permanent.   Yes, relationships on earth are perfected in heaven to such a degree that it is identical with God’s unconditional love for us.

What, then, is the implication for our faith in the resurrection?  It means firstly that marriage is a beautiful sacrament.  Indeed, it is a grace of God and analogous, as St Paul would later write in his letter to the Ephesians, to Christ’s love for His Church, Jesus the bridegroom and the Church His bride.  So too in marriage husbands and wives are called to love each other like Jesus by surrendering ourselves to each other even to the extent of dying for each other.   Marital love therefore is also the anticipation of the love of God and a participation of God’s unconditional love.  In marriage, a couple experiences intimacy through the yearning for each other’s presence, the union of mind in mutual caring and understanding, the mutual giving of self to each other, all so sacramentally expressed in the union of bodies in sexual relationship.

Thus, if we want to share in the fullness of life in the resurrection, then we must already start living a life of love and unity with our spouse, children, friends and with each other.  By experiencing human love from each other we will also have a partial experience of the depth of God’s love for us.   This is necessarily so because we are constituted of body and soul.  We need to feel the love not only in our hearts and minds but also in and through our bodies.  Human love is mediated through eros before it becomes agape, from possessive love to oblative love.  Thus, human love, because it is imperfect, must be purified till it reaches divine love.

This is where we come to realize that we need divine love or else as human beings we cannot love perfectlynot only God but our loved ones.  We cannot give what we do not have.  As fallen creatures all of us are sinners and therefore selfish and protective of ourselves in love.  We are all wounded in love and therefore unable to give ourselves totally to the other person.  We are selfish and self-centered even in loving.  To be able to love selflessly and freely is a grace from God.  Man cannot always give unless he also receives.  He cannot give oblative love unless he himself is loved in return.  So in the human person, eros and oblative love are complementary to each other.

It is within this context that we proclaim the love of God for us.  The novelty of the Christian message is that God loves us, unconditionally and totally in Christ. It is this faith in God’s love for us that we can now love each other.  God’s personal love for us is totally eros and yet totally agape, possessive and oblative. It is this experience of His love for us in Christ that we realize how much God loves us and wants to possess us so much so that He would emptied His life for us on the cross.  It is a love that forgives.  It is a love that is patient and enduring.  This passionate and possessive love of God is therefore not due to His weakness but because of His immense love for us since He knows that only in Him can we share in His perfect love.

Thus, it is so important to recover the love of God for us.  Whilst human love is important, it is even more important that we experience His love concretely and personally in our lives, especially through conversion experiences and graced encounters with Him.  Otherwise, the love of God is not real in our lives.  Only by sharing in the Israelites and the Christians’ experience of God’s personal love in Christ, can we perfect our human love for each other and for Him.

We cannot speak of heaven and the resurrection of the body without grounding the future life of the immortality of the soul with the resurrected body on the permanence of love.  This was what St Paul wrote to the Thessalonians who were hoping for the coming of the Kingdom.   “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.”

In the meantime, we must continue the work of establishing His love in our lives, beginning with our family, our community and our workplace and in society.  We must extend the love of God to all of humanity so that through our human love for them, they might encounter the love of God.  Through our acts of love, mercy and compassionate work, we will help the healing process of the wounded hearts of our fellowmen and through such kindness, they will begin to see a glimpse of God’s love for them, enabling them to open their hearts in faith to the full installment of His love in Christ.

Of course, in reaching out to the world, we cannot rely on our own strength to love but we must rely totally on God’s grace and His faithfulness to us.  St Paul assures us, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will give you strength and guard you from the evil one, and we, in the Lord, have every confidence that you are doing and will go on doing all that we tell you. May the Lord turn your hearts towards the love of God and the fortitude of Christ.”