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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

Only our faith gives us the sight Jesus wants us to have, the faith which makes our relationship with God and others the most important part of our daily lives, the only part that guarantees us eternal life.

NOVEMBER 2, 2014: ALL SOULS

Readings:

Wisdom 3:1-9
Romans 6:3-9
Matthew 25:31-46

My grade school catechism explained away the lack of references to heaven in the Hebrew Scriptures by contending that the “gates of heaven” were closed the instant Adam and Eve committed their original sin. Since no one could get into heaven before Jesus’ arrival, there was no need to bring up the subject.

The actual biblical answer is less complicated: the ancient Jews had no concept of an afterlife as we know it until about 100 years before Jesus’ birth – about the same time the book of Wisdom was composed. Most simply believed everyone ended up in Sheol after death; sort of a state of suspended animation in which the dead knew what was going on, but couldn’t do anything to change it.

The Pharisees were the first Jews to reach the insight that life with Yahweh could go on after our physical deaths. Their reasoning was unique. Everyone believed Yahweh, who is eternal, could form relationships with human beings. If Yahweh chooses to maintain those relationships after people die, then they also will be eternal. They’ll be relating to and with Yahweh forever.

The Pharisees succinctly state their novel belief in Wisdom 1:15: “Justice is undying.” The word “justice” is the normal biblical term for the relationship Yahweh wants individuals to have with him/her, the kind of relationship which will enable us to step into eternity with Yahweh. We’ll never die. We’ll be “in the hand of God . . . abiding with him in love.” There’s much more to life than just the here and now.

Paul of Tarsus (also a Pharisee) believes the best way to become one with God is to become one with the risen Jesus. He reminds the church in Rome that their formal relationship with the Christ began with baptism, a ritual which employed an outward sign demonstrating their commitment to die and rise with the Christ. Unlike most modern baptisms in which candidates have a few drops of water poured over their foreheads, early church baptisms always entailed totally immersing the catechumens in water – an outward sign of their commitment to die and be buried with Jesus. Then, dripping wet, they were immediately pulled up from the water – symbolizing their rising with Jesus.

The Apostle perfectly summarizes the meaning of this action in just two sentences. “If then we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” It also no longer has power over those who have become one with Christ.

The normal biblical way we demonstrate we’ve become one in dying with Jesus is to die by becoming one with those around us – especially the most helpless. This realization helps Matthew’s Jesus to create one of the best-known passages in the Christian Scriptures. The criterion the king employs to separate sheep from goats revolves around just one thing: the determination to become one with those who, in certain situations, can’t help themselves. In each case, Jesus insists, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.”

We’d naturally expect the rejected goats to ask, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty . . . ?” But the sheep ask the identical question. Obviously not even those who are committed to being other Christs always see the risen Christ in everyone they help. That’s a big part of the death entailed in dying with Jesus. Only our faith gives us the sight Jesus wants us to have, the faith which makes our relationship with God and others the most important part of our daily lives, the only part that guarantees us eternal life.

DignityUSA

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