Jesus had less than a week to live when the events of today’s gospel took place. So it’s perhaps not surprising for him to be talking about life after death and teaching against the Sadducees that there is a resurrection that all created flesh will share in.
Because the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection they tried to trick Jesus into giving a stupid answer to their farcical case of a woman who was the surviving widow of her husband and six brothers-in-law. Whose wife would she be in heaven?
Yet this is the sort of question that many people ask even today. Will my dog be with me in heaven? Will I recognise people I’ve known here on earth? What will happen if I come face to face with someone who’s been my sworn enemy? What about my best friend who doesn’t believe in God? And what if I don’t like it?!
Perhaps the first thing that we must say about heaven is that it’s the fulfilment of all our desires and yearnings for God. Jesus enticed his listeners by saying that no eye had seen nor ear heard what God has in store for us. It goes far beyond what we could ever imagine or hope for. We see God face to face and as we gaze on his glory we are moved to the profoundest level of love, a love which leaves no room for any kind of emptiness or regret.
The second thing that we need to remember is
that God is eternal, just like the life he offers us. We necessarily live in time but God’s eternal nature means that he experiences infinity at every moment; in fact “moment” is too restricting for a God who exists free from the boundaries of time. After our resurrection we share in that “instantaneousness” of God. We are caught up in the immediacy of God. There is no yesterday or tomorrow about heaven. It’s an eternal “now”.
When we view heaven in this way we realise that many of our questions and difficulties about it are simply man-made and woman-inspired. We naturally have a tendency to tie things down to our own experience of reality. Yet today Jesus tells us that the afterlife is radically different from some of the ways we conceive of it. That’s why he says that the Lord is God not of the dead but of the living: for to God all people are in fact alive.