|Memorial of St. Andrew Dung-Lac
First Maccabees 6:1-13
Psalms 9:2-3, 4, 6, 16, 19
When I step back from today's readings I see two fundamental questions
popping up. The questions are interrelated:
Those of us schooled in the Baltimore Catechism would be able to drop a rote answer to these without thinking - of course there is an after-life and God's Son saved us so we can live in that after-life in glory. If God's Son didn't save us, our souls would float in some aimless existence too terrible to contemplate.
But we shouldn't forget that there are other possible answers to these questions, and that at the time Jesus lived the debate on these issues must have been as contentious as the debate about abortion is in our age. And it is good for us to examine these issues to see what we really believe, not just what we are supposed to believe.
Is there really life after death? Is there some eternal, non-corporeal existence that transcends the reality we know today? Are each of us unique beings, with our own separate soul, or are we part of a unity of creation that sees us as parts of a whole but not discrete in ourselves? When we stop breathing and thinking and sensing and living in this body of ours, do we continue to think and sense and live in a different form of existence?
And if the answer to the first question is yes, there is some form of life after death, what relationship does it have with our present, physical life? Does what we do while alive impact what we realize upon death? Is there a heaven and a hell - a form of wonderful eternal existence and a form of terrible eternal existence? What do our actions here have to do with there? How can there be different understandings of what it means to have this after-life?
The psalmist says, "I will rejoice in your salvation, O Lord." What is salvation to the psalmist? To us? Jesus says that "God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for him." What does it mean to be dead to God? How are we all alive for God? How does our understanding of God affect our understanding of an after-life and its relationship with our current life? If there is but one God, can there be different realities of salvation? How can people justify terrible actions during life because of the impact that these actions will have on their understanding of salvation?
These are tough questions for a November morning. I can't answer
them for you, nor can anyone else. I think it is good to grapple
with them on occasion, with an open mind and heart. To do so is an
opportunity for us to deepen our understanding of God, to strengthen our
faith in God, and to burnish our love for God.
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