“for they are like angels;”
Do we become angels when we die? Many people seem to think so, due in part to popular movies saying as much. While the movies may be entertaining and the notion is a comforting thought, it does not correspond to Church teaching.
And then there is this:
“…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;” Luke 20:35-36
To understand the words of Jesus we must start with an understanding of the purpose of the sacraments. What is the purpose and function of the sacraments of the Church? Are they merely formalities, symbolic touchstones marking our progress through life? Because of our short finite time here on earth we tend to have a short-sighted, finite view of the transcendent things of Heaven.
The Sacrament of Matrimony is a good example. It is far more than just the blessing of the Church bestowed on a newly wed couple. Understanding Jesus’ argument with the Saducees helps us to understand the power and significance of the sacraments.
Jesus has been in the temple courtyard for many days, preaching and answering the attacks of the Pharisees. The Saducees now take their turn and ask Him a complicated theological question designed to undermine belief in the Resurrection.
But the answer Jesus gives points out the problem with the question. The Saducees thinking betrays a fallen worldview.
“…for they are like angels;” Did Jesus say we will become angels when we die? It is popular misconception.
But in fact this is not what Jesus said. The entire exchange with the Sadducees takes place within the context of the meaning of the sacrament of marriage.
Man was created to be in perfect communion with God. We needed no sacraments in the Garden of Eden for we saw God face to face and were completely united to His grace. For the same reason we will not need the sacraments in the coming age and the resurrection of the dead. The love shared between two individuals will be more fully realized, but there will no longer be a need for the sacrament of Matrimony. In that sense we will be like the angels in heaven.
But we live in a fallen world. God ordered the sacraments as a means of conveying grace to us. Each of the sacraments brings us closer to God and closer to the union we were always meant to share. As a source of grace, the sacraments help us to follow the Lord, even in the face of opposition.
As followers of Christ we are constantly under attack. The Adversary takes every opportunity to separate us from God and hold our beliefs up to ridicule. Sin then becomes normalized and when we lose our sense of sin, we lose our sense of need for the sacraments. When that happens we give up a little more ground to the enemy.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com