Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
Nature provides us with our cue to remember the dead. November winds cut with the sting of Winter cold. The light which lengthened Summer evenings has greyed and darkened. Nature draws a curtain bringing November days to a premature end. The changing colours and the naked trees mark, for our meditation, another stage in the cycle of growth, harvest and decay. November, we set aside for remembering. Our thoughts turn, as we end the church year and the calendar year, to the traditional ‘four last things’.
We think on the realities of death, judgement, heaven and hell. We do so not in any morbid way, but as a natural part of the cycle of life and of nature. We are a resurrection people. Death has no longer the final say. We reflect on the reality of death so as to allow ourselves to accept its reality, and to move on in faith. Only when we have integrated death into life can we live our lives in a manner which does not deny the inevitable and which is not doomed to be superficial. We do not seek death. Death will find us. We seek only to live in such a manner that our deaths will be a fulfillment.
Judgement is inevitably painful, and sometimes necessary. We judge ourselves, by and large by the integrity of our lives and actions. We judge ourselves by the behaviour and by the choices which mark our lives. The gospel sets a high standard against which a Christian will be judged but we believe too that God’s judgement is more then matched by God’s justice and God’s mercy. We are free to choose. We choose whether to separate ourselves from Christ and from the Gospel community or whether to live in communion with God and with others. We get what we live for. If we live for god and for others, we get the eternal company of God and of the faithful. If we live for ourselves alone that is what we get, ourselves, alone.
Heaven is not an extension of earth. It is a new creation. All things are different, transfigured. It is beyond the human mind. It means an end to the limitations of the world and of the flesh. There are no more tensions, no more tears, no more disappointment and above all, no more death. It is eternal communion, eternal perfect togetherness.
Hell is separation, isolation, being left out, rejected. It is eternal loneliness, the hunger of burning desires which will never be fulfilled. It is the natural outcome of a selfish life. Purgatory is having to face the truth and the reality of one’s life. It is a purification, a preparation, a painful purification in the white heat of truth. God takes the best within us and perfects it.
We know little of these things but we know we have to confront them. Now is the time to think of them and to ask the intercession of those who have gone the journey before us. In remembering death we remember them and we hope one day to share with them in the life and light, the love and company which we know will one day return.