Sunday, November 10, 2013

Children of the Resurrection (32 C)

On Easter Monday, 1917, the second day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a Canadian soldier was hit by machine gun fire. When the smoke cleared after the fierce fighting, his body was placed with many others to await burial.

The soldier had a brother in the next regiment, who was duly notified of his death and given his few personal effects.

The next day a company of soldiers was marching along the road beside the pile of corpses. Suddenly a soldier shouted out and pointed to the bodies—one of them was moving.

The officers realized that the body was not dead, and a medical crew was quickly called. The wounded man was rushed to a field hospital, where after many, many months he recovered, and returned to Canada at the end of the war.

That man, the man whom you might say came back to life, was my grandfather. If not for the sharp eyes of a weary soldier, neither my father nor I would ever have been born.

It’s a good story for Remembrance Day, isn’t it? In fact, one of my brothers turned it into a play with his grade six students, basing his script on my grandfather’s war diary, which he owns.

But compare that wounded man, thought to be dead but still alive, with Christ—Christ who was truly dead, but who returned to life in a glorious resurrection. Compare my grandfather, who did die in 1945, his life shortened by his war injury, with those Jesus calls “children of the resurrection”—those who cannot die any more.

The story of my grandfather pales by comparison to the story of Jesus; tomorrow is Remembrance Day, but today and every Sunday is Resurrection Day.

Today’s readings are not the kind a preacher likes to find when he opens the Sunday lectionary. The first reading is the short form of one of the most terrible stories in the Bible—it describes the torture and death of four of seven brothers. The whole story tells us that all seven died; before the youngest was killed his mother was told to speak to him and change his mind. She leaned close to him and said “Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”

Anyone like to step up and preach on that cheerful text?

The Gospel is an odd one, at least if we read the long form that includes the woman who had seven husbands. And if you don’t read the long form you’re a bit of a chicken.

How to make sense of all of that?

Actually, it’s not that difficult if we zero in on one thing: the resurrection of the dead. These readings are not directly about the resurrection of Jesus; they’re about the resurrection of those he judges worthy to share in his resurrection.

The mother of the seven sons was able to watch her sons die rather than break the Jewish law because by this time in the development of Israel’s faith pious Jews had come to believe in the resurrection of the dead. She was serenely confident of seeing her sons again.

Think for a moment about the strength of her faith in the resurrection—because this is before the time of Jesus. How much stronger should our faith be, as disciples of the Risen One?

The wife of seven husbands is just someone made up by the Pharisees, so she has nothing to teach us. But Jesus turns their trick question on its head in order to show that heaven is a place we can’t quite imagine, a place that doesn’t fit into all our earthly ideas and experiences.

We only get glimpses of heaven here and there n the Bible, but Christ’s words in this text give us some idea of what we will be like in heaven. Of course we cannot die any more, that’s obvious, but also we will be like Angels and sons and daughters of God.

But the most striking thing Jesus says is that we will be “children of the resurrection.” Could anything greater be promised us?

In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul says “if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

The first reading and the Gospel tell us the same thing in more words. Those who are faithful to Christ will be given a place in the age to come, living forever beyond the reach of death.

No earthly suffering can rob us of our inheritance: on the contrary, when we unite our sufferings to Christ, we increase our claim to share his glory.

So these unusual texts have a simple enough message. Resurrection is not a word that only pertains to Easter Sunday. It’s a promise to every believer; it’s the hope of every Christian soul. It’s what encourages us when we’re living and consoles us when we’re dying. Faith in the resurrection of the body—a fundamental truth of our faith— allows us to accept the death of loved ones and makes grief easier to bear.

It’s a bit sad to think that we Christians could be less certain of the life to come than that brave martyr-mother who lived two hundred years before Christ rose from the dead. At this Mass, on Remembrance Day, and during the month of prayer for the Holy Souls, let us pray for a deeper faith in His resurrection, and in our own.

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