Homily for 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 2007
There are words and phrases that we use repeatedly in our liturgy and prayer. Words like peace, reconciliation, forgiveness. Listening to the world around us there does not seem to be much evidence of the reality of those words. Peace is absent in many places, reconciliation is a painfully slow process, and many are unwilling to forgive. We use our freedom mostly to protect ourselves from others rather than to bring life to the world. We are inclined to cut ourselves off from others instead of reaching out to them. That grasping for security is found in everything from the arms race to making sure the neighbours don't take our wheely bin.
One prayer which makes me pause each time we say or sing it at mass is the "Lamb of God". That is the wonderful litany before Holy Communion at Mass. The final request of that little litany is "grant us peace". We pray it so often. Does our prayer go unheard?
Yet I believe that our prayer is heard and is answered in countless ways every day. In simple things like the routine of courtesy to one another, affection within our family and community, reaching out to someone who is at their wits end. It can be so easy to take the road of least resistance and avoid engaging with people. But if you reflect on your day you realise that it does happen all the time. We can and do bring life and peace to the world.
The theme of resurrection runs through our readings today. We use the word as though we understand it! There are all kinds of ideas in popular thought about an afterlife. Resurrection can mean simply to resuscitate a dead body. But that happens quite routinely in hospitals as we know. It can be mixed up with the notion of the immortality of the soul, or some vague post death existence in some hazy place called heaven. Or it is even confused with reincarnation. While some of these ideas are not incompatible with resurrection, resurrection it is a very different reality.
The immortality of the soul as usually understood is something inherent in human beings. We are created for immortality. We have an eternal destiny. This is the belief that we endure beyond death. It is a notion that is certainly not unique to Christianity. Most religions believe in an afterlife. It is not the same thing at all as resurrection. Resurrection literally means "to rise up" or more simply "to stand up again". And don't we need to stand up again and again every day! Life's events can drag us down. It can be hard to stand up and face life's challenges.
Jesus is responding to a simplistic materialistic understanding of resurrection in his discussion with the Saducees in the Gospel today (Luke 20:27-38). The age to come, Jesus says, is not like this age when people need to marry and have children. Resurrection is a gift that comes from the fidelity of God to his people. As such it is a mystery of God's love.
Some Christian theology uses the image of Peter and Paul being released from prison (See Acts of the Apostles 12:6ff and 16:25ff) to understand something of the mystery of resurrection. Peter and Paul at different times are imprisoned for their preaching. But they are miraculously set free. Resurrection is about being set free. The apostles creed says of Jesus that he "Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead." The "hell" referred to is simply the place or abode of the dead not the place of punishment (cf 1 Peter 3:19). Jesus goes to the dead to release them. The resurrection is about God releasing his people from the bonds of sin and death. It is the outcome of God's fidelity in his love for his people. So it is not just about my getting to heaven. It is the fulfilment of Jesus fidelity to the Father in loving us. It is only in this light that we can begin to understand the willingness of the seven brothers in the first reading to be prepared to die a martyr's death rather than eat pigs flesh! It is their response to God's fidelity to them (2 Maccabees 7). They know God is faithful to them. So they trust that God will save them even if they die.
So unlike the immortality of the soul, resurrection is something that begins in our lives now. Because resurrection is about transformation not resuscitation. After his resurrection Jesus is not immediately recognised. He is somehow different. He is transformed. It was only after he spoke with them that they recognised him. Eternal life in this sense is not a pie in the sky we await. It begins in our baptism, is confirmed in us by the Holy Spirit, and grows daily so that we can face all kinds of hardships in life and flowers into life everlasting. We too will be transformed into a new creation.