Third Sunday of Easter - Cycle B - Luke 24:35-48
"Read it three times." The advice came from novelist William Faulkner to readers who could not understand his book. He might also include the Easter Gospels in that advice.
The Sioux Indians have left us a clever line: "The first question people ask after death is, 'Why was I so frightened?'"
The Sioux braves would not have been as surprised as we were by the findings on life after death discovered by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. They were revealed in her blockbuster book On Death and Dying. The book was based on interviews with people who were judged clinically dead and then revived. Hundreds of thousands of copies are in circulation.
Dr Kubler-Ross has had many followers. Their research method and hers were the same. Interviews were held with the apparently dead shortly after their revival. When the doctors pooled the results of their interviews across the US, they were amazingly similar. People recalled their soul outside their body. They testified to feelings of peace and contentment and meeting dead family members and a religious person whom some call Jesus.
Dr Kubler-Ross writes this remarkable line. "The most common denominator of all these people is that when they come back, many of them resented our desperate attempts to bring them back to life. None of the patients who had a death experience and returned are ever afraid to die again."
With Kubler-Ross as a backdrop, let us check out the Easter Gospels. Perhaps they can add to our information on life after death. Perhaps we can discover why Catholics, who have paid their dues this side of the river, would choose not to return after death. Indeed they would be outraged.
But why outraged? The Easter Gospels suggest that they have begun to party. They are living life in the fast lane - whatever language you like. Theirs is the wisdom of the monk who said death is nothing more than God's manner of recycling.
Check the resurrected Jesus of today's Gospel. He is a flesh and blood person. He speaks. He is even hungry. Why else would He eagerly ask, "What's for supper?"
We do not know what kind of a body we will have. But there is a strong hint in St Paul's letter to Philemon 3:21. "The Lord will transform our lowly bodies into copies of his own body." It does sound like we are going to go first class. Besides, most of us are unhappy with our bodies. Have you noticed that there are very few Audrey Hepburns and Cary Grants born? We have nowhere to go but up.
Let us tackle the big sleep problem. College students say to me, "Got to party now, Father! We'll do all our sleeping in the cemetery." Forget about that eternal sleep. The resurrected Christ is constantly on the go - Jerusalem, Emmaus, and then a three day walk up to Galilee. His trips sound exhausting.
It is not surprising though. Jesus never said, "I am the resurrection and the rest." Rather He kept insisting, "I am the resurrection and the life." You can look it up in John 11.
Heaven then is not a place where we go to collect bed sores. You will not need your pajamas. Get your sleep while alive.
Hold onto your seats, for the best is yet to come. This is all verbatim from the Easter Gospels. Death does not mean we go into solitary confinement. The resurrected Christ is constantly surrounded by people. Today's Gospel is proof of that. But also look up John 20 and 21. He is forever eating or cooking. Perhaps you should be buried with your recipes and good Burgundy.
What is He telling us? "I know you need human companionship. You will meet your families again. Everyone but your mother will be surprised you made it into heaven."
Also, as Donald Senior has pointed out, the resurrected Christ speaks no angry words, shows no tension, and has no enemies. This is a night and day difference from the pre-resurrected Christ. Think of Him driving those bandits from the Temple! His Easter message is that we can leave all our tranquilizers and prescriptions behind us. There is no need for a pharmacy or health plan in heaven.
The shadows of death may be long and dark, but the Easter Gospels tell us they are not forever.
After our respective deaths down the road, I believe we us will say with the Sioux Indians, "Why was I so frightened?"
The savant tells us that those of us who are prepared to die are prepared to live.