There is a beautiful “incense hymn for the departed” from the Maronite Catholic tradition, a rite in full communion with Rome seated in Beirut, Lebanon, which reflects on the Resurrection:
Isaac buried Abraham as he grieved and mourned for him,
since life after death was hid, unknown to mankind.
But to Moses God appeared, speaking with him to reveal
the just and the righteous are alive with their God.
This references God’s revelation to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3), when God says He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In his sermon, “The Resurrection of the Body,” St. John Henry Newman takes Christ’s own words about this as his principal text:
Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him. (Luke 20.37-38)
Christ confirms that God revealed to Moses not only his Holy Name, but also the doctrine of the Resurrection. Even though their bodies have died, God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who “live unto Him” even beyond bodily death. Christ came to show that there is a life after death for everybody–the Patriarchs, the Jews, and us.
St. John Henry Newman’s sermon suggests that, if this is true, then there are very practical things that all must apply to their lives right now. First, Newman begins with a biblical principle that is confirmed by the highest forms of modern medicine and sciences today: there is more to our bodies and souls than our “senses” can know. There is always something just beyond our full comprehension and ability to explain. The complexities of real situations always force us to revise and rethink inherited theories. A human is a soul and a body, a complex single nature that “is born once and never dies.” Although it sounds like a paradox, Newman says that God has revealed in Scripture and Christ that “our bodies, even when dead, are still alive,” since “all live unto Him,” both the living and the dead. This means that there is much about our own persons, body and soul, that remains mysterious.
Next, Newman notes the first practical demand: the eternal life of our bodies and souls is sustained and nurtured by the Eucharist, without which Christ teaches we have no life in us (John 6). Newman says that the Eucharist and the Resurrection of the body are similar in that we can know the “effect,” but cannot rationally know how they work. They are truths “addressed solely to our faith, not to our reason,” because we have nothing to “reason upon” when confronted with them—no human method of science can allow us to arrive at knowledge of them. They are mysterious, spiritual, sacramental works of God. Even so, they are an objective part of revealed truth that we may be confident in. In John 6, Christ links partaking of the Eucharist—his true body and true blood—with eternal life and the Resurrection, and immediately adds that those who partake of it will be raised up on the last day.
The Eucharist is our “means of living forever.” The Eucharist is God’s appointed way to bring us eternal life now and unto eternity: “[God] can sustain our immortality without the Christian Sacraments, as he sustained Abraham and the other saints of old time; but under the Gospel these are his means, which He appointed at His will.” The Body and Blood of Christ nourish our bodies and souls bound for Resurrection. In nature and in faith, we are what we eat—literally. God has willed that our body be filled with the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of His Son, and that this be our necessary nourishment for life everlasting.
Since our current earthly bodies become the very locations of such an immensely holy plan, Newman thus asserts his second practical notion: “Our bodies shall rise again and live forever; they may not be irreverently handled.” Now and for eternity, we are called to be, body and soul, temples of the Holy Spirit. We must have holy hearts and holy bodies that we may have the Life of God in us.
Newman then emphasizes how eagerly and zealously we should “study to cleanse [our bodies] from all sin, that they may be true members of Christ!” Newman wonders what use it is to reverence holy places—churches, shrines, sacramentals, etc.—if we do not first reverence ourselves, cleansing our actual bodies and hearts from all immorality and impiousness. The thought of one day rising to new life in the Resurrection means that right now we must rise to a new life of holiness in what St. Paul calls our “members,” the physical body and spiritual soul God has assigned to each of us.
The Resurrection is not a far-off, pious ideal that, in the midst of life’s practical demands, we put on a shelf until Death comes calling. It is a reality that requires a total renovation of our current life, and demands present application. We must be holy now that we may partake of the Eucharist, the True Body and Life of Christ, and that we may make progress toward that perfection of Eternal Life required of us on Judgment Day. Newman’s ending rhetoric helps us imagine the cost of ignoring this truth:
Wretched men they will then appear, who now for a season enjoy the pleasures of sin. Wretched, who follow their own selfish will, instead of walking by faith, who are now idle, instead of trying to serve God, who are set upon the world’s vanities, or who scoff at religion or who allow themselves in known sin, who live in anger, or malice, or pride, or covetousness, who do not continually strive to become better and holier, who are afraid to profess themselves Christians and take up their cross and follow Christ. May the good Lord make us all willing to follow Him! may He rouse the slumberers, and raise them to a new life here, that they may inherit His eternal Kingdom hereafter!
Even though many may not currently have access to the Eucharist due to quarantines and closures, Newman’s thoughts can help us to do two things. First, we can reflect on the many graces and powerful things God has given to us in previous receptions of the Eucharist, and show God gratitude. For instance, we might prayerfully remember our first Eucharist, or recall vivid moments of lasting graces communicated to us on special feast days or in trying times. Second, we can follow Newman’s advice, and zealously apply ourselves to inward and outward holiness in our souls and bodies in preparation for our next reception of the Eucharist.