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Hey Rev!

What happens when we die?

- Wondering

Image of Heaven.

Image of Heaven.

Dear Wondering:

A little over a week ago, I learned that my friend, Chris, is entering into palliative care. The news was a shock. When Chris first got sick earlier this year, it sounded as though there was cause for optimism: the tumor was not malignant and the medical professionals felt that a combination of radiation and chemotherapy held promise. But after five weeks of treatment and the awful side effects which flow out of the calculated poisoning of the body, the tumor was quite unchanged. And so Chris stopped treatment. And he moved into hospice.

Chris makes excellent use of social media and of Facebook in particular. And thus, not long after he shared the news that he probably isn’t going to get better, Chris used Facebook to ask his friends a question:

What is your experience of resurrection? What does that word mean to you?

The responses to Chris’ question have been many and varied and inspiring and loving and beautiful. Throughout them runs the theme of life abundant. “Resurrection,” one friend says, is the promise “that death will never diminish life.” “Resurrection,” another friend offers, is “as expansion in our ability to love… the dissolution of barriers of fear and hostility, [the] ability to live rather than just survive.” “Resurrection,” a third says, is the assurance “that even the loss of your physical presence cannot take away the ways that you were a gift to me.”

Chris did something extraordinary by posing his question on Facebook. Through it, he invited those of us who love him to engage in an exercise in crowd-sourced wisdom, to wonder out loud about love and loss and mystery.

“Resurrection” is the Christian answer to your question, “what happens when we die?” And “what is resurrection?” Well, that is one of the great questions of the Gospel.

Jesus doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about the afterlife. But what he does say is tantalizing. When a bunch of hecklers, for instance, want to know to whom a woman who has been widowed multiple times will be married in heaven, Jesus tells them that they are asking the wrong question — that resurrection isn’t bound by our rules. Rather, after we die, he says, we “are like angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-32) Jesus offers a similarly brief and similarly glorious promise to the repentant criminal who hangs beside him on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Resurrection, Jesus’ final words suggest, is about right now(“today”); it’s about nearness to the big love which scripture tells us was made manifest in Christ (“you will be with me”); and it’s about being in a place that is soaked in beauty, that is safe, that is home (“in paradise”).

What does resurrection look in specific terms, Wondering? We don’t know. And more than that, we can’t know. J.B.S. Haldane famously said, “My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” I’m going to venture that we could say something similar about resurrection. Resurrection is life outside of time, life beyond suffering, life defined by love. And, as such, it is bigger and more wondrous than we can understand.

We catch a glimpse of resurrection through experiences of deep beauty, through encounters with hope and generosity and curiosity and love and wonder and possibility and wild compassion. We catch a glimpse of resurrection when a man facing his own mortality posts a question on Facebook and friends far and near write him back to testify to the glorious abundance of life.

Categories: Beliefs

Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

12 Comments

  1. Fr. Elfert seems a bit coy about the Resurrection. Where Jesus was reserved about the Resurrection, St. Paul had a good deal more to say: “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen; and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain…For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins, and then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Cor. 15). And in holy Tradition, in the Councils and the Creed, we are taught to “Look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Neither holy writ nor Tradition are ambiguous on the matter, though reason admits it as silly. All three, scripture, Tradition, and reason are needed for Christian authority (George Herbert); I wonder if Fr. Elfert is leaning to heavily on reason, that he hesitates and neglects the other two sources of the Christian faith.

  2. This is a profoundly immoral article. What a string of guesses and claims!
    It is the most childish commentary I have read on RNS in months.

    Death is death.
    We disintegrate and we are gone. We do not ‘have bodies’ – WE ARE bodies and when we die there is absolutely nothing of any kind left to resuscitate.
    Why do I say this? Because that is the evidence.

    We do not remember what the world was like before we were born
    and you will completely cease to exist in the same way after you are dead.
    This life is all you have.

    we “are like angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-32)

    What? How spectacularly solipsistic and vain
    to think that you will be granted another ‘life’ somehow – as if this astounding experience on earth is just a doormat to another world! How cheapening of this life!

    Besides, WHO is Jesus talking about going to heaven? Everybody goes to Hell if you follow the bible (“the way is narrow” , “sell all your things or else” , “rich don’t go to heaven”, “eat of my body and repent and follow my commands and and and…”)

    NONSENSE.
    IMMORAL, tragic, superstitious nonsense to say this to people.
    Jesus had no information which is forbidden to me. Jesus knew nothing about the afterlife since it is clear he is full of contradiction on the issue.

    Is it okay to hope for a life after this one? Sure.

    But to claim a truck load of nonsense to be true is immoral and disgraceful!
    Resurrection? How despicably immoral.

    No matter how tempting this nonsense must be resisted. Childish and foolish.

  3. The Bible is very clear. When we die we are dead. When Christ’s returns the living wicked will perish from the brightness of His coming. Then the saved that are in the grave will be drawn up to Him. Then the living saved are called up to Him and they shall all rule in Heaven above for 1000 years. Then the New Jerusalem will come down to earth where the they will live forever with Jesus & God. There is more detail if you read the book of Revelations of Jesus Christ. The 66th and final book of the Bible. There are and will be many claiming to be Christ. The only thing that will separate them is that Christ’s feet will never touch the earth. The false Christs will preform many wonders and miracles. When Christ comes everything on earth will perish instantly, except those that belong to Him. No, there is no eternal burning in hell. That is just a myth. There is no purgatory. Only the remnant church will be in Heaven. Those who keep the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ in there hearts & minds. God is a merciful God. God is love!

    • @Jack,

      You lost me at, “The Bible is very clear.”
      That is nonsense.

      NO AFTERLIFE: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

      NO AFTERLIFE: “When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.” (Psalm 146:4)

      NO AFTERLIFE: “human and animal the same, and go to the same place: everything comes from the dust, and everything returns to the dust.” (Eccl 3:20)

      NO AFTERLIFE: “a human being, once laid to rest will never rise again.” (Job 14:12)

      IMPOSSIBLE AFTERLIFE: “Depart from me, YOU cursed, into the eternal fire…” (Matthew 25:41)

      NO AFTERLIFE: “For what is your life? It is a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)

      NO AFTERLIFE: “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.” (Psalm 144:4)

      HAPPY AFTERLIFE EVEN FOR FAITHLESS: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ SHALL ALL be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

      DELUSIONAL AFTERLIFE: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53)

      SHAMEFUL AFTERLIFE: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and EVERLASTING CONTEMPT.” (Daniel 12:2)
      I wonder who does the shaming? Are crowds of ‘non judging’ angels brought down from heaven just for this purpose? :-(

      CONFUSED? BLAME GOD:
      “Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind?
      IT IS I, Yahweh!” (Ex 4;11)

      :-(

      This is profoundly foolish nonsense. Run away from clergy and this ugly superstitious nonsense.

      • I understand your frustration. Until I studied the Bible I was confused also.
        You should not discourage others who want to find the truth.
        It is their right to seek the truth if they so choose.
        As my mother used to say, “Unless you have something good to say, don’t say it”.
        May God bless you even though you don’t believe in Him.

          • Sorry, by your continued posting against Christianity it sounds like you are showing signs of frustration. Again, I am so sorry that you don’t understand the Bible. I did not understand it until I learned how. You have to be able to cross reference between the books of the Bible. It is the key to unlock the Bible. I was fortunate to find the key.
            May God Bless you and open your eyes to His teachings.
            Peace!

  4. Beauties of heaven are reserved for those who appreciate the giver of it. Imaginations are not reserved at all. Every man can imagine or believe what he chooses. The error lies in the reality that there are those that hate some for an imagination of something beautiful after death, Heaven. The reason this is so, is because they hate to think of the other half of that imagination, Hell, but if it truly is just in our thoughts, why are there millions world-wide who believe in this “Christ”? Why are these “Christians” more persecuted than any other religion? Why is Christ the name that is not to be spoken in China? Why are people still today hating a popper that died a common death 2,014 years ago? My imagination cannot help but wonder, “Who is this man?” If He is who the Christians profess Him to be, I can lose nothing by joining their cause, and if He is a myth, as these atheists claim that He is, I have lost nothing and gained the most beautiful gift of mankind, love. That is why I am a Christian and that is what heaven is about.

  5. David Francis

    As a Roman Catholic I believe in many things. Many of these are the saints and the lives they lived and the miracles that involved. I have seen the incorruptible body of St. Bernadette. I have read the stories of the miracle of the sun in Fatima Portugal, and the newspaper accounts of this miracle seen by 70,000 people and the apparitions of The Blessed Mother. Also the apparitions in Knock Ireland in 1879. Now one is not required to believe in any of these, but there is more to Christianity than one thinks.

    • @David Francis,

      Your story is sickening.
      I am revolted that a grown man such as you would claim that God will cure people if they go to a remote, expensive tourist trap full of superstition.

      The poor children with Cancer will never make that trip – for more reasons than one. Stories such as yours fill me with disgust. For shame.

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