Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
10 November 2019
This past Wednesday, we held a Solemn Requiem Mass in commemoration of All Souls Day. We remembered and prayed for those in our parish who have died this past year and for our loved ones who have gone before us. We also reminded ourselves of our own mortality. As Fr. Charles explained in the introduction to the service, we can view All Souls Mass as our own funeral.
Today’s Gospel reading from Luke continues our reflections on death and the afterlife. The Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, ask Jesus a question to try to stump him. They present him with an extreme hypothetical situation, in which a woman marries seven brothers in succession according to the custom of levirate marriage, in which a man is responsible for marrying the childless widow of a deceased brother. In the resurrection, the Sadducees ask, whose wife will the woman be? Jesus answers that in the resurrection, there is no marriage. The resurrected state will be a very different sphere of existence than what we are used to in this earthly life. There is no marriage. There is no death. As children of the resurrection, we will become like the angels.
The Gospels vilify the Sadducees along with their colleagues the Pharisees as the primary opponents and enemies of Jesus. Denouncing him as a troublemaker, they challenge him at every turn, and they ultimately want to eliminate him. Yet, I don’t know about you, the Pharisees and Sadducees frequently become the voice of my own doubts and questions. They are, after all, devout Jews, well-versed in the Torah, and, whatever their faults and intentions, they ask good, rational questions, such as the one today.
Although our Christian faith is, at the most basic level, a religion of salvation dealing with death and the afterlife, it provides us with few details about what actually comes after death. We don’t have a lot of concrete information in the Bible. We are thus left wondering and asking a lot of questions. I once heard about a dying man asking the priest whether he will be able to continue his favorite hobby of gardening when he is heaven.
There’s a fascinating book titled Heaven: A History that traces the various views and beliefs about heaven that Christians have held down through the centuries. What is especially interesting is that many Christians today conceive of heaven as simply a continuation of what is best in this life, like the cabin on the lake, a memorable trip, a favorite pastime. They project their personal experiences and desires onto the afterlife.
The TV show “Simpsons” has a funny episode in which Homer and Bart are thinking of converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, and Marge is very concerned. One night, Marge has a dream, in which she is shown a vision of Roman Catholic heaven and Protestant heaven. In Catholic heaven, Homer and Bart are having a fun time at a big party, complete with a Mexican fiesta and Irish step-dancing. Meanwhile in Protestant heaven, where Marge finds herself, she finds a bunch of preppy types playing croquet and badminton. The ethnic stereotypes aside, Marge’s dream is probably not too far off from what most Americans would like to think of heaven. After I preached this sermon at 8 o’clock Mass, our fellow parishioner Hugh Kierig shared with me another good one. Several years ago National Lampoon did a piece on the different views of hell among churches. The Roman Catholics had images of Dante’s Inferno. For the Episcopalians, there was a well-dressed couple sitting in a nice restaurant – and behold a rude waiter!
The fact is, the Bible does not spell out all the details of what happens to us when we die. Of course, there are references to heaven and hell, but these are usually vague and open to different interpretations. Consequently, Christians hold diverse views of the afterlife. Some believe in immediate heaven or hell upon death. Others believe in purgatory or a temporary state of sleep. Some believe heaven to be a place inhabited by disembodied spirits floating around. And some would even reject the idea of an afterlife, interpreting heaven and hell in metaphorical terms. We have quite a spectrum of beliefs and opinions in Christianity about the afterlife. Yet, whatever our differences, we can all agree on one fundamental conviction. Jesus is the source of our salvation. As the Bible states, he is the author of our salvation (Acts 3:15 & Hebrew 2:10). To extend the metaphor a bit, we do not yet have all the details of the book of salvation that Jesus has authored, but it will eventually be revealed to us.
One detail, however, that Jesus does make abundantly clear is the reality of the resurrection. Just as he died and was resurrected, we, too, will die and be resurrected. We are told in Scripture that when Christ comes again at the end of time, all the faithful will be resurrected and share in Christ’s glory. We are offered glimpses of what this resurrected state will be like. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared on several occasions to his disciples and followers. And in all the post-resurrection accounts, we know that he was no ghost or spirit; he came to his disciples physically, in his resurrected body. Jesus ate meals with his disciples (Luke 24:13-35 & John 21:1-14), and so-called Doubting Thomas touched Jesus’ hands and side to be convinced that he had indeed risen (John 20:24-29). The Apostle Paul explains that this resurrected body will be different from our human body. There will be a transformation that takes place. The resurrected body will be “incorruptible” and raised in “glory” and “power,” but it will be a physical body nonetheless (I Corinthians 15:42-43).
In our Anglican tradition, we affirm this belief in the resurrection each time we hold a funeral service. The very first words of the Burial Rite in the Book of Common Prayer are these words of Jesus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Even as we grieve and mourn in the face of death, we defiantly proclaim Jesus’ conquest over death and his promise of resurrection and eternal life.
It is not only in our funeral service that we express this faith in Christ’s saving power. Our two primary sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, also embody this resurrection hope. In baptism, we die with Christ and rise to new life in him. The waters of baptism represent death as well as life. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated in those traditions that practice immersion. Going under the water represents a dying, a “drowning,” if you will. But then the coming up out of the water represents our resurrection. As we emerge out of the water, we are cleansed, transformed, given new life.
In the Holy Eucharist, we repeat this act of uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection. What begins with Baptism continues with the Eucharist. We remember his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. And as we receive his Body and Blood, we unite with Christ in the mystery of the Sacrament. He dwells in us, and we dwell in him.
Dear friends, as we approach the Altar this morning for the Most Holy Sacrament, let us renew our hope in Jesus, our resurrection and our life. Let us unite with him in his death and resurrection in this Holy Mystery. And let us look forward to the day when our hope in the resurrection will find fulfillment as Christ comes again in all his power and glory.
 Colleen McDannel and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
 Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments? (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), 15-16.
 Davison, 39.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!