November is, by tradition, a month of remembrance. Following on from the recent celebrations of All Saints and the Remembrance of All Souls, we pray for those who have gone before us. But how do we remember them? Is it with a sense of loss that looks only to the past, or a sense of confident expectation that looks to a future when death shall be no more, when we shall be reunited with those we have loved in the fullness of Christ’s Resurrection?
Our attitude to death, and therefore our relationship with those who have died, is rooted in the most fundamental confession of our faith: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”
When we make this confession of faith we proclaim that our own death, as a sharing in the death of the Lord, leads to a sharing in his Resurrection. The immediacy of bereavement does, of course, bring a deep sense of loss. We long to see, to hear and experience those we have loved. Christ was raised from the dead not as a disembodied spirit, but in the fullness of a humanity embraced and formed in Mary’s womb. The life that had been seen and touched in the person of Jesus, that had been laid down on the Cross, was raised up in the Resurrection. This surely promises that in our own sharing of Christ’s Resurrection, nothing that we have seen and touched will be lost.
The reading from the Book of Maccabees, describing the martyrdom of seven brothers, draws particular attention to a bodily Resurrection. As death approached, the brothers confessed their faith in something more than a shadowy ghost-like survival beyond death. As they surrendered their physical bodies to the torments of death they confessed their faith that God would raise up all that seemed to perish in their dying: “It was heaven that gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I disdain them, from him I hope to receive them again.”
This hope in a bodily Resurrection grew rapidly in the period immediately preceding the coming of Christ. Most of the contemporaries of Jesus, with the exception of the Sadducees, would have looked forward to a life after death that included the resurrection of the body. The Sadducees refused to believe in such a resurrection, and the questions that they addressed to Jesus were intended mock and dismiss any thought of the resurrection of the body.
Jesus responded by pointing out that God had revealed himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By the time of Moses the patriarchs had been long dead, and yet Jesus asserted that God is the Father of life, and that in him all men, including those who seemed to have died, are in fact alive. Thus Jesus did not hesitate to affirm the resurrection.
Possibly we fail to grasp the richness of all that is promised in our sharing of Christ’s bodily Resurrection. Clearly we cannot, from this side of the grave, understand the exact nature of that Resurrection. What we do know from our own experience of life is that God created us not as pure spirits, but as those born into the warmth and wonder of our humanity. We can see, hear and touch, and through these wonderful gifts of body and spirit we reach out to each other. Christ’s Resurrection from the dead promises that none of this is lost in death, but that in him we are raised up to the fullness of that humanity. The death that once mocked the hope of all that it is to be human, becomes, in Christ, the path to its fulfilment. Through death we enter into the fullness of our humanity – something we scarcely glimpse in this life.