HOMILY for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Death is the end. It is a cut-off point for many things. Illness and suffering for example, in which death may be seen as a relief and a release. But it’s also a cut-off point for various relationships. My religious vows are only made until death. So, after death, it seems, I am not longer a Dominican. The same is true for the bond of marriage which is also only made until death. After death, it seems, no one is still married. And this may be seen by some, I dare say, as a relief and a release but for many it will be a surprise and maybe even a shock. And yet, that is what Jesus affirms in today’s Gospel.
The reason for the end of marriage at death is that marriage, from Jesus’ point of view, serves a temporal purpose; it is for “this age” (Lk 20:34). It’s for pro-creation and for the raising of children in a family. As such, marriage serves the common good of society and ensures the continuation of humanity; it is ordered to Life, and, more specifically, life on this earth; this life, this age. Hence Timothy Radcliffe said in The Tablet: “Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future”. In a recent article on the Huffington Post a newly-wed man said a similar thing. Seth Adam Smith said: “love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others… for family… for your future children”. And this article went viral because it appeared so fresh and new. And yet, in rather more turgid language, this is what the Code of Canon Law, repeating words from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, says: “The marriage covenant… of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children” (CIC 1055 §1). Today in this Gospel, Jesus gives us the implication of this understanding of the very nature of marriage, which is that in the agelessness of heaven, all temporal concerns such as the procreation and education of children, the transmission of new life through the marital act, and thus the marital bond itself will cease. So, Jesus says that those who rise from the dead “neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more” (Lk 20:35f). What this means we can barely imagine since the inevitability of death and its finality is always before us especially in this month of November.
But we have a glimpse of the strangeness of the risen life in today’s Gospel: there will be no marriage, no sex. And also, no eating or drinking. As St Paul says: “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). What is striking, I think, is that these basic bodily activities are taken away at death but… they are not entirely gone. Rather, what they signified for us human beings remains and is intensified. St Paul hints at this. The conviviality of the banquet and shared meal – which is why human beings don’t just feed but dine – endures and strengthens; there is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.
So, what of marriage and the marital act, then? As we know, the marital act between husband and wife is never just about pro-creation although this is always essential. But there is more. For human beings don’t just mate but make love. Thus, sex is always unitive and strengthens the mutual bonds of love and commitment between a couple. And so, I think we can say that in the risen life, love and unity, which is what the sexual act signifies in this life, remains and is intensified because in the life to come we will be caught up in God who is Love itself, and in the communion of the Holy Trinity who is most perfectly One. Pope Francis pointed to this two weeks ago when he said to families in Rome: “True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love”. In heaven, then; in the life of the resurrected, this joy and harmony and love which is only glimpsed in our family and marital lives on earth is brought to perfection as we see God face to face and live for ever in his presence, in him.