Thursday, June 19, 2014

Not just life after death but love after death

Like every religion Judaism has over the centuries had many internal debates. We Christians are most familiar with the Sadducees and the Pharisees. One of the debates was the question of which books should be considered inspired by God.

The book from which today's first reading comes, Sirach, was part of the debate. The reason we hold onto the book is that if you go back to the earliest Christians writings like the didache, they quote from it. If the first Christians considered it inspired, who am I to come along later and throw it out. We must be honest enough to acknowledge that part of the reason the Protestants threw out books like Sirach is that in them are found support for practices they did not like.

Today's reading ends:

Then Elisha, filled with the twofold portion of his spirit, wrought many marvels by his mere word. During his lifetime he feared no one, nor was any man able to intimidate his will. Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back into life. In life he performed wonders, and after death, marvelous deeds.

The notion of people going to heaven and continuing after death to work marvelous deeds, has from the beginning of Christianity given rise to our practice of turning to the saints and asking for their intercession. We believe that we pray for one another not just in this life but forever, until the day when Christ's kingdom is brought to its fullness. We do not believe that once people reach heaven they stop caring about us, they stop praying for us.

I believe that my mother and father and brother are in heaven. I believe that they still love me. I believe that they turn to God on my behalf, and will do so until we are all together in eternal life. Do I worship them? No, I worship only God. But do I believe that talking to them is perfectly fine, because they are not dead and gone. I believe it is smart to ask for their help and support.

Today's reading tells us that Elisha did not stop after death, and neither do we. Once we have been purified, and enter into the kingdom of heaven, we not only love the ones we loved in this life, we love perfectly. And because we love, we care. And because we care, we intercede with the Father on behalf of those who are still passing through their earthly life.

Even if you are a Protestant and do not accept that the Book of Sirach is part of the inspired word of God, you cannot reject the simple logic of what we call the communion of the saints.