As Roman Catholics, we have just celebrated All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These two celebrations are preceded by All Hallows’ Eve. The people of Mexico have such a celebration also. They call it Dia de Muertos; it has not lost its religious significance in Mexican culture. On Oct. 31, children build home altars to welcome children who have passed away to come visit on Nov. 1 and to commemorate deceased adults on Nov. 2. Families go to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of loved ones on Nov. 2. The church also has designated the whole month of November as a time to remember the beloved dead.
The second reading from 1 Thessalonians invites us to reflect on what awaits us after we die. Paul tells the Thessalonians not to grieve someone’s death like non-religious people who have no hope. He says, “if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” It is important for us to realize that any Christian attitude toward death must always be within the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We can determine from the stories of Jesus’ resurrection a little bit of the character of risen life. First, Jesus no longer appears to be limited by space and time. His glorified body transcends these worldly conditions. Second, we know that he eats and drinks from his appearance in which he asks for something to eat. Finally, we see that he does some pretty ordinary things like cooking breakfast for his disciples on the seashore. There is certainly much more about his risen life that is not related in the Gospel accounts. These stories give us some assurance that our risen life will be similar to the one we are now living but will also include so much more that we cannot even imagine from our current standpoint.
Once we get beyond the few indications concerning risen life as narrated in the Gospels, we are in uncharted waters. We do know that Jesus was raised from the dead through the love of the Father and the Spirit. We understand that resurrection from the dead and life with God is our final destination. We cannot, however, imagine with our earthly bound categories what this life will be like. We realize that we will be possessed by God and will possess God in some sort of magnificent way for all eternity.
Perhaps Paul gives us the only answer available in this present time: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52). November’s remembrance of the dead need not be morose and filled with sorrow, for it promises life and life abundantly.