Last week we celebrated All Saints and All Souls days. The celebrations remind us of the victory of Christ over death – and the promised share in the life that is his. Within the church different ethnic groups celebrate these days with great celebration.
One of my brothers was in Krakow, Poland on Nov. 2, All Souls Day. He sent me a photograph of a cemetery that evening. The large cemetery was full of candles marking the graves of the deceased. The photo was taken at night. The flames of the candles looked like a sea of light filling the dark sky. The candles are a symbol of hope, hope that the deceased are not dead but alive and awaiting their resurrection.
Jesus teaches us in his encounter with the Sadducees that God “is not God of the dead but of the living.” He emphasizes the resurrection saying: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”
Jesus, in his own person, verifies the teaching when after spending three days in the tomb he rose from the dead. He is alive and he promises us a share in his life.
The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy comes from the Second Book of Maccabees. It recalls the story of the arrest, torture and martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. These Jews withstood the onslaught of the Seleucids who were trying to force them to abandon their faith. The king’s forces torture them with whips and scourges. As they engage him it is clear that their King is God. Their faithfulness is fueled by the belief that God will remain faithful to them and will raise them to eternal life.
The second brother gives clear articulation to this belief, saying to the king: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” The brothers’ faith gives them courage even in the face of death. Their hope lies not in earthly power from the kings of this world, but in the King of Kings and his eternal faithfulness.
Jesus’ resurrection verifies the hope of the seven brothers. His bodily resurrection from the dead gives us hope not only for our deceased loved ones but for ourselves as well. As we live day to day on this journey of life, the promise of eternal life drives us forward striving to live a good and virtuous life, a life faithful to the Gospel, a life of love and mercy.
Jesus, risen from the dead, is the light shining in the darkness. He is the source of our hope. He is the source of our courage. In this light, we hear St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians spoken to us: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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