Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Wedded Together

This morning it seems it’s time once again for that favorite first century Palestinian game show: Stump the Rabbi. The scribes and Sadducees are great at it. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, their question was: “Should we pay taxes or not?” This morning it’s: “Well if she had seven husbands, whose wife will she be?” I am reminded of sixth grade at my parochial school where we often played: Stump the Nun. It went something like this: “Sister, suppose you were walking to church, and you began biting your fingernails. Could you go to Communion, or did you break the fast?” “Gary, are fingernails food?” “No, Sister.” “Thank you, dear. Be seated. Boys and girls, take out your geography books.” Or how about this one? “Sister, suppose you were at a restaurant, and you ordered a hamburger, and just as you were about to bite into it, you remembered it was a Friday, in Lent! Should you eat it or not?” “Of course, it would be a worse sin to waste food. By all means, you should eat the burger.” Sr. Elinor Gertrude was sharp. And like her sixth graders, the Sadducees this morning are no match for Jesus. He cuts through their foolishness like a hot knife through butter.

If only the Sadducees realized the gift of God and who it was who was speaking with them. They focus on an outlandish “what-if” scenario - the preposterous possibility of six of the “brother-in-law” marriages prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy. But Jesus draws them and us into a more astounding revelation. Marriage in its beauty, intimacy, and commitment is appropriate to this present age, but it will come to an end with this present age. (See Anchor Bible) But the reality of eternal life, this endless, intimate relatedness with God in the Kingdom, will never end. 

For Jesus one thing is true - we live for God, and those who live for God are truly alive forever. (See Alois Stoger) Resurrection is real. “Those who are deemed worthy,” says Jesus, “will never really die at all but be raised up, for God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. And all are alive to him.” At death, our lives will be changed definitively but not ended. Jesus promises us transcendence, unending mystery. He points to the discontinuity between our present earthly bodies and the glorified resurrected body. For life after the resurrection will not be a continuation of our earthly life. It is a lack of faith, but even more “an impoverished imagination,” which insists on a preoccupation with things of earth rather than those of heaven. We must live in faith and wonder.

But how can we believe that this body, so clearly mortal, fragile, will rise to everlasting life? Why? What for? And what exactly does rising mean? Death is the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. And we believe that, in his power and love, God will grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection. The resurrection of the body will occur because of God’s great love and reverence for our bodies, our flesh - not just a husk for an immortal soul, but sacred. God has taken our flesh to himself in Christ. Heaven and earth have been wedded together in Him.

But even as I believe, I want to know. What will it be like to be resurrected? Maybe it’s a dumb question. Don’t you wonder though? You know one of the loveliest depictions of heaven is that given us by the Renaissance painter, Fra Angelico. He portrays a gathering of the resurrected, each one hand in hand with an angel dancing a kind of a minuet in a verdant, enclosed garden. It’s charming enough, but... I don’t know about you, but it just doesn’t seem to hit the spot. Do you want to dance for the rest of eternity? I never liked dancing. It just doesn’t do it for me.

The Gospel accounts of the resurrected Jesus paint a much more dynamic and gutsy reality and give us real glimpses of what resurrected life is like. Jesus is alive alright, but forever marked with the holes and wounds of his suffering; he is transformed, transcendent, luminous, and yet wholly available and wonderfully interactive with all his friends. He defies all barriers of time and space and continually seeks communion, connectedness, indeed intimacy with those whom he loves. They recognize him, recognize his body, but somehow, they know he’s different, completely Other.

And what does he do once he’s together with those he loves? You know, most often he eats with them. Whether it is at Emmaus or in the upper room or on the beach, he breaks bread with them, feeds them, or even asks to be fed by them. “Have you got anything here to eat?” He often tells them not to be afraid. And one day walking through a garden, he is mistaken for a gardener. “Mary,” he calls to one heartbroken disciple.  And when we hear her called by name, we hear each one of our names called, known in the deepest depths of our hearts by Christ. Perhaps this is why he says to her, “Do not touch me.” She and we who truly love him do not need to touch him, for his resurrection accomplishes our total union with God; in the resurrection, we are completely intertwined, intermingled with God in Christ. We are with him, in him, body and soul, and we will be forever.

Baptized into Christ, resurrection is our destiny, our reality. We believe that God will raise us up as he raised Jesus. God has taken on our flesh and raised it to eternal life in Christ, and we have been made divine. God has fallen madly in love with flesh and blood, our flesh and blood, and made it God’s body. Best of all, most mysteriously of all, it is Jesus himself who is the resurrection and the life. The resurrection is not an event but a person. It is he in whom we live and move and have our being. He shows how to live for God always; for he is continually drawing us with himself, to the Father in the Spirit. We will be raised up through him, with him, in him. Endless communion with God will be ours, body and soul, with each other, with all our loved ones, indeed with all creation forever because of him. The Holy Communion he feeds us with is a foretaste of our destiny and his desire for us.

Photograph of the Abbey cemetery by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of our monks.