In the old version of Star Trek (and I think it is still the same) captain Kirk and his crew were able to be beamed from the starship Enterprise onto a nearby planet or another ship. The idea behind this was that the ‘transporter’ (the machine that did this) was a sophisticated computer that was able to scan a person’s complete makeup and memorise the exact structure of the whole person. Then it changed this information into energy which it beamed to another place and then re-assembled the person. Pretty clever. Of course scientists agree that in reality it would be impossible to do this because the human body is way too complicated. No computer could possibly store or analyse all the information in a single person.
Our Christian faith tells us that God is able to store and maintain the unique pattern that is at the core of each one of us, even after our earthly body dies. That unique pattern that makes up the core of each of us we call the soul. Then after our earthly body dies the Lord gives us a new body in the place we call heaven, for those who choose to go there; and we choose to go there by the way we live.
If God cannot do that then our earthly death would be the complete end of us. But we believe that God can and will do this. That is what makes the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead such a mind-boggling one. That is also why the celebration of Easter is such a big event and is often called ‘the great miracle’. It was not automatic that Jesus would be raised from the dead, but it happened because God worked an extraordinary miracle.
We often wonder what it will be like in the next world. Will it be like here, but only better? In this Gospel the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, are arguing among themselves and they put this idea of the resurrection to Jesus. So they give him a ridiculous example to make a point. It is a kind of test case. They presumed that because their example was so absurd, Jesus would have to admit that the idea of the resurrection just did not add up. But what Jesus basically said was ‘you are trying to figure out the next life in earthly terms; but you cannot do that.’ It is so different that we cannot even begin to think what it would be like.
Think of how a caterpillar makes a chrysalis and then turns into a butterfly. You would not recognise one from the other; they are so different. You plant an acorn, but then a tree grows out of the ground. When Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday, she didn’t recognise him. When he appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t recognise him either. He was so different. It wasn’t just a human body brought back to life, but something quite different: what we call a ‘glorified’ body.
I have a friend who I grew up with who is now a consultant pathologist. They study the science of disease and do the post-mortem’s when someone dies, as you probably know. Before his wedding we were talking about different arrangements for the mass and he told me that he could not believe in the idea of the resurrection, because from a scientist’s point of view, it was impossible. I was impressed with his honesty about it. I suppose he was caught where the Sadducees were also caught. He was trying to figure out the after-life and the spiritual world, in earthly terms. This doesn’t work because it is so completely different and we only know what is earthly, so it is very difficult for us to get our minds around the spiritual world because we have no experience of it.
That is why God asks us to believe without understanding. That’s what faith is. God is saying, ‘will you trust me on this?’ We would not be able to understand it even if it was explained to us because it is completely beyond our understanding. It would be like explaining a complicated physics or maths problem to a toddler. No matter how well you explained it he simply would not be capable of understanding it.
We believe in life after death because Jesus has taught us about it and because He appeared to the Apostles after his death and to so many others down through the centuries to say, ‘this is real. Believe it and know that this life is waiting for you when you die, if you choose it.’
A surprising number of people, who even call themselves Christian, do not believe in life after death. If we don’t believe that something happens after death, then it is pretty pointless being here now at this mass, because each mass we celebrate is a continual reminder that we believe in a life after this one which we are already preparing for. This also gives us great hope for those who have died, that we will be united with them again. This is a hope that we must hold onto. Every time we celebrate the mass we become present to the event that made life after death possible. We become present to the death of Jesus on Calvary. Time stands still and we are there. Without this sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary we would not be able to go to heaven when we die and be reunited with those we love.
I want to finish with this quotation from a man called John Owen, who was a great Puritan minister. When he lay dying he was dictating some last letters to friends. He said to his secretary:
‘Write’: ‘I am still in the land of the living’.
Then he stopped and said: ‘No, change that to read’:
‘I am still in the land of those who die,
but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.’