Monday, March 7, 2016

Life After Death

Dear Friends,
In some eras of the distant past, Christians believed or were taught that this life was the antechamber for heaven. Thank God that way of thinking  has given way to the conviction that this life is good, worthy of being lived fully and valuable in itself. Some of us are old enough to remember singing “Life, I love you! Feelin ’groovy!” Yes. With our contemporaries, we do love life, but dangerously pay scant attention to the beyond. Yet both are essential for the Christian life, and our desire for both needs to be kept in balance. Life after death continues to be an indispensable part of faith, and an important topic for us to weave into our Lenten thinking. “If we have been united with him {Jesus] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6.5).”
What can we say about life with God after death? We know that Jesus died generously, out of obedience to His Father who wanted us all to be saved. The death of Jesus “was the culmination of a life of loving obedience to God, obedience to the mission of being human, really human, with no thought of controlling or dominating others but simply of giving himself away to them…( Herbert McCabe, OP).”  Jesus took on death and conquered it. On the third day, he was raised up, never to die again. Jesus was whole, his risen self unrecognizable at first glance but then revealed to believers.
We cannot imagine life with God after death. But, as Herbert McCabe reminds us, we can know two things for certain: “that it is ours… and that it is now incomprehensible to us.”
Still, Christians have ways of talking about life with God after death (heaven) in imagery drawn from the Scriptures. We say heaven is another name for the fullness of life Christ promised (John 10.10). It is the fruit that never becomes overripe, the face and the voice that never cease to appeal to us. Heaven is the insight that never fades, the music that always stirs us, the love that glows with vitality and never diminishes. Heaven is the fullness of all human relationships summed up in the depths of our relationship with God.
Once, when visiting a woman in hospice, I wondered with her whether she was ready to cross over. “No,” she said, “The kitchen in my mansion isn’t ready yet! (John 14.2)” Belief in this dying woman was laced with humor! She lingered two more weeks.
We get a feel for what heaven is like in those moments when we see more than meets the eye in the very people and places which we love. Elizabeth Barret Browning catches this sense of life hereafter as she reminds us:
                                                Earth’s crammed with heaven
                                                And every common bush afire with God;
                                                And only she who sees takes off her shoes.
                                                The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
 ~ Sister Joan Sobala