Is there life after death? If so, what does this mean? Will we be united in death with those whom we loved in this life? Do the bonds of love experienced in this life continue beyond the grave? Are our loved ones far from us in death? How do they live on, if indeed they do? These are questions that have preoccupied human beings for millennia. Our Christian faith tradition, grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, offers no clear answer to any of these questions. It simply offers a call to faith in life after death and in God as ‘God not of the dead, but of the living.’
As the liturgical year draws to a close, the readings invite us to ponder this mystery of the bonds of love that persist, in unimagined and unimaginable ways, even after death. Some Sadducees ‘who say there is no resurrection’ put a loaded question or case study to Jesus in an attempt to expose as nonsensical the Pharisaic belief in resurrection and, in the process, to discredit Jesus as a teacher of the Law. As usual, Jesus refuses to be trapped.
The diversity of Jewish opinion and belief implied in this passage may come as a surprise to those who think of Judaism at the time of Jesus as a religion with a unified theological system. There was certainly agreement among the parties or sects on four key aspects of their faith, namely, monotheism (one God), election (Israel as God’s chosen people), the call to be faithful to the covenant, and the Jerusalem Temple as the meeting place between God and God’s people. At the same time, there was room for considerable diversity. Life after death and the resurrection of the dead were among the many contested beliefs.
As I sit quietly with a dying, 96-year-old, gracious Mercy elder who has a twinkle in her eye and a love for life, I ponder the mysteries of life and death. I know in my heart that the life she has generated and the love she has known and brought to others over the best part of a century will somehow continue through the grace of the God of the living. For the moment, that is sufficient response to the reading for this Sunday.
Jesus of Nazareth refuses entrapment and invites belief in a God for whom all the dead are alive. We live by faith in that God and in hope of the resurrection.