Let me shock you with a question: What happens when you die? Well, I think there is enough mate.rial there to spend hours and hours, days and days, about the subject. And no doubt, you have been part of someone whom you have seen in the actual moment of death. The question has been pondered, puzzled, and debated forever and ever. And I think most of us, whether as family or as ministers, have been part of that most serious and sacred time when a person dies. It is a reality that we face in ourselves and in those who are close to us. All of sudden they are gone. They are dead.
The question lies at the center of the Gospel that we read this Sunday from St. Luke (20: 27-38). It is an exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees, that class of Jewish believers who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or the existence of spirits and found comfort only in the oral tradition of their ancestors and the literal interpretation of the Law of Moses, forming the upper echelons of religious and social structures of Jewish society. They thought to be the descendants of Zadoc, a High Priest of the First Temple of Jerusalem in the V Century BC. They were the aristocracy of their time.
The question from the Sadducees could be paraphrased as: Who gets the woman after all her husbands died? "Whose wife will she be since she married seven times?" they asked. But even before we answer the question with any satisfaction, a previous question needs to be faced and answered: What is Death? If death is thought to be the absolute end of everything we are and we do, or the very absence of any life, then the question posed at the very beginning, What happens when we die? is moot. For centuries this was the thinking of our Jewish ancestors in the faith who believed that when the breath of life departs we return to dust or live in the netherworld of the Sheol. But even in late Biblical literature, with some of the Prophets and narratives like the one for this Sunday from 2 Maccabees, there is an undercurrent about life eternal, symbolized by the mother of the seven children murdered by a pagan king. They will live with God in eternity, she believes.
We know that Egyptians and other cultures prepared well for the journey in afterlife. When pressed for better answers about the WHAT, WHEN, and HOW of death, Christians with St. Paul do not become excessively concerned with an answer. St. Paul says that "in life and in death we belong to God" (Romans 14: 8). But what is death? Some of the great Saints spoke of the joy of dying. But we are not there. Death is something that we fear or at least something we are not comfortable about. We may be able to imagine dying-although most probably we don't want to-but we cannot imagine our actual death because we have no point of reference. What is it that happens at the moment of our death when our hearts cease to beat and the breath spirit leaves the body? It is not something we think about too often. At best, it is for most of us an uncomfortable thought; at worst it is terrifying.
Our Lord Jesus by his suffering and death has a new vision and purpose about our own suffering and our own death. For those who believe in Him life is not ended with death but is changed. And here is the mystery that goes beyond human understanding. St. John tells us the very words of Jesus: "l am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even if they die will live. And those who believe in me will never die" (John 11: 25), he tells Martha at the rising of her brother Lazarus. The Preface of the Mass for the Dead sums up the gift of such life offered to believers: "For your faithful people, Lord, life is changed not ended, and when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in Heaven." We do not die. Our bodies do. We live on, in a life and dimension that Jesus promises to those who follow Him and his message. We come from mystery. We live a few years and we return again to mystery, to God who has created us for Him.
There is no marriage or being married in Heaven, Jesus says. We will be like angels and spirits. Our souls are in God and with God. But we will recognize our loved ones in God and through God and rejoice in their presence being loved by God eternally. We just need to TRUST as we pass from this life. Jesus says to his disciples and us: "Do not let your hearts be troubled .. .Have faith in God and faith in me. In my Father's House there are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And when I have prepared a placed for you, I will come back and take you with me so that where I am you also may be" (John 14: 3). I do not know about you but that is VERY COMFORTING to me.
So there you are. It is the month of the Dead and the Saints. TRUST. They are waiting for us.