Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Life after death

If you take all the accounts of the resurrection together, including Saint Paul’s conversion and his own writings about resurrection we are certainly in the realm of deep mystery. In our gospel reading today Luke insists that Jesus had a body of flesh and blood and yet on the other hand he could walk through walls and be in different locations at the same time which tells us that it was not a normal body.
In fact his body did disappear or dematerialise and return to God soon after the resurrection and we celebrate that event at a day we call the Ascension. Saint Paul on the other hand writes about “spiritual bodies” and insists that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”. His encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus was a spiritual one, with a disembodied voice asking Paul “Why are you persecuting me?”
We have to take all these things together to gain some kind of purchase on what is being conveyed here and what it means for our own future beyond the grave.
Nothing is crystal clear but we can be clear enough to be certain about some things. Luke’s insistence of physicality is there to tell us one thing certainly ; that the person that is raised after death is exactly the same person who died.
People don’t like talking about death but if and when they do one question that pops up regularly is will I be “me” and will I recognise others? Luke’s insistence on a physical resurrection gives an emphatic answer to that question. The answer is yes, you will.
You will remember also that Jesus’ resurrection body bore the wounds of his death on the cross. What can this mean except that not only are we recognisably the same person but we bear the marks of our experiences here on earth.
In a spiritual sense, pre-figured here by Luke in a physical sense, we take the sum of all we are and all we learnt, all we did and all we didn’t do with us.
God will perfect and use all those experiences for the good, because we believe and trust in a God of goodness and light.  
Depending on whether we accept our culpability for our wrongdoing or not and whether we turn to God in Christ for forgiveness will determine what happens then. God forgives all who truly repent.
There were two thieves on the cross. One mocked Jesus and one acknowledged his guilt and threw himself on God’s mercy. Jesus said to the repentant thief. “I tell you the truth. This day you shall be with me in paradise”. It is not recorded what would happen to the other thief. Whatever his ultimate destination was, the implication is that, you are outside of God’s presence until you yourself turn to be saved.
I can find no timeframe for when that turning must take place in the Bible but I do understand  why people think that our ultimate destination is fixed by our decision in our lifetime. But to be true to a God of Love as well as justice and to encompass all the people who had no reasonable chance to hear the message and “turn and be saved” in this life I believe we have an opportunity to turn after death.
Some may then say. Why would we bother to worship and evangelise if everyone eventually has a chance to turn and be saved anyway? Well that is a curious and illogical thing to say. If you know what is true. If you know the saving love of God. If you know the peace of God now in this life, if you know the path you should be walking on, if you can know your ultimate destination now, why would you deny yourself those riches? If I believe that to be true, why would I deny Jesus and turn away from Him, in a fit of pique because others might eventually receive what I can enjoy right now – that is the picture of the eldest son in the parable of the prodigal son.
And remember Jesus says to us in Matthew 10: 33 “If you deny me in front of men I will deny you before the Father”
We can enjoy God and all His benefits forever, and it can start right now. We have the advantage over other people because we know what is true. When we repent (Metanoia – Go beyond your mind) and are born again, we recognise and embrace the gift of Life that God offers to us.
Preaching Salvation for all without repentance is often called peddling “cheap grace” though of course the revelation of God’s deep love for us did not come cheap. It came at a huge cost, borne with grace on the cross on a desolate hillside in Palestine 2000 years ago. The appropriate response to that sacrifice is gratitude and the determination to turn around our lives in response.
I’ll end with some prophetic words from Saint Augustine that I love because they concentrate the mind so well and so we might do well to meditate upon them. I’ve already commented that the the destination of the second thief is not noted. But Augustine assumes the worst......
Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved.

Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned. 

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