Our faith is not founded on human ideas but on divine revelation. God revealed himself to us not all at once, but gradually, little by little. Belief in the resurrection, which is one of the main points of Christian faith, got established just around two centuries before Christ. We find it set out in the last books of the Old Testament, like Daniel and the second book of Maccabees. In Jesus’ time, not all accepted that belief: for instance, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection, while the Sadducees—that is the priestly aristocratic and conservative party—denied it.
That is why the Sadducees put to Jesus the question we have just heard in the gospel. They refer to an ancient custom that we find in the book of Deuteronomy, the so-called “levirate marriage”, according to which, if a man died childless, his wife should be married by her brother-in-law. Of course, the case the Sadducees submit to Jesus is an extreme one, just to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection. Jesus, as usual, does not lose his composure. His answer is in two stages. He firstly points out the feebleness of the question, saying that in the afterlife there is no marriage: marriage is necessary in this life to preserve the species; but in the afterlife there is no need of it, because there is no death any more. In the second part of his reply, knowing that the Sadducees are not interested in an answer to their question, but their intention is just to ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection, Jesus wants to prove the truth of this doctrine. He cannot do it quoting the prophet Daniel or the second book of Maccabees, because the Sadducees do not acknowledge the authority of these texts; they accept only the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. So, Jesus refers to an episode from the book of Exodus, that the Sadducees cannot refuse: the burning bush. On that occasion God revealed to Moses his own name: “I am who I am,” the unmentionable name of God that subsequently was replaced by the title “Lord.” But on that same occasion God introduced himself as “the God of your fathers, the God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Well, with a typical rabbinic interpretation, Jesus says: Since God is the living God, he cannot be God of the dead, but of the living; so, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not dead, but alive.
The resurrection of the dead is one of the articles of the Creed we repeat every Sunday (Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum). It is one of the points that characterizes Christianity and distinguishes it from other religions. But very often Christians themselves are not aware enough of this truth and sometimes they confuse it with other doctrines, incompatible with it, like reincarnation, typical of eastern religions. We do not believe only in the immortality of soul, that is that after death our soul will keep living. We believe also that, at the end of time, our soul will reunite with the body, like Jesus, who on the third day rose again from the dead.
One of the signs of this unawareness of the resurrection is the spreading, even among Christians, of the practice of cremation. From the very beginning, Christians have always buried the dead, to distinguish themselves from pagans. They commit the body to the earth, waiting for the resurrection. Cemeteries are called so—namely “dormitories”—because the bodies rest there waiting for awakening. The burial of the faithful departed is an act of faith in the resurrection. But now many people prefer to be cremated and some ask that their ashes be scattered or even transformed into pieces of jewelry. For this reason, few days ago the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith issued an instruction regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation. This document recommends the traditional practice of interment and, in case of cremation, forbids the conservation of the ashes at home, their scattering and their conversion into pieces of jewelry, not because these practices prevent God from raising the dead, but because they contradict our faith in the resurrection. Let us not forget that we profess our faith not only by words, but even through gestures.