As a pastor, I am occasionally asked questions about what happens to us after we die. Generally, people who ask me this are either under age 8, over age 70, close to their own deaths, or wondering about a loved one who has died.
Some of the questions I’ve been asked:
- Will I meet grandparents who I never met but whose stories shaped my life. And if so, how will they know it is me?
- When my body will be resurrected, how old will I be? Which version of body? And furthermore, which mind? Someone once told me they wanted their 20 year old body but their 40 year old mind and their 70 year old compassion.
- Will my pets be there?
- And, even, I have married two people and I loved them both. How will we all get along?
I always feel the tenderness behind of these questions – wondering about death is an inherently vulnerable thing. All these questions are some version of that big question:
Who will I be, after I die.
I wish I had Jesus right here to ask. Truly, my best answer is I don’t know, I haven’t died yet, and scripture gives us precious little to go on. We get glimpses and some hints – including the answer from Jesus in the gospel today, where he indicates that the imaginations of those wondering is too small, and where he tells us that those who have died are somehow alive, children of the resurrection.
But I don’t know. And I always say that.
And then to that I don’t know, I’m always able to add something that I think is invaluable.
I don’t know…but here’s what our shared faith says: You will be alive, a child of the resurrection.
We believe that through baptism, we are joined to Jesus, adopted by God, and part of God’s family forever. At funerals, we say “for just as we have died in a death like his, certainly we will be resurrected in a resurrection like his.”
Death is not the end of our lives. We live on, and not only in a spiritual way, but in a bodily way too, somehow. We are recognizable as ourselves and we are also fully redeemed – made well in every possible way and brought into harmony with all of creation.
We believe this because of the resurrection of Jesus, who died and was raised in the flesh, never to die again. We believe this not because we know it in the same way we know that water heated to 212 degrees will boil or blue and red makes purple. But because somehow, despite the questions and doubts, we know it. For faith is a way of knowing something true about the world that is not logical or even provable.
It’s more along the lines of knowing that you are loved. Something that becomes evident as you believe it.
We are locked into a certain way of understanding life – stuck in time and mortality, scarcity and limit. But in God’s eternal presence…it is different and yet, also, it is still YOU. Whatever constraints you can imagine, whatever questions you have, it will be better…different…better…more.
And so even though I don’t know, I know. I know the people we miss are now alive with Christ and with us, somehow, in this mystical communion of the saints. I know that my own death – even though I love my own life – will not be a tragedy but a new birth into a new life secured by Christ.
No, when I am asked about the resurrection, life after death, I am always able to say I don’t know…but let me tell you what I believe:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life, everlasting.