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Preparing for life after death

Sermon 21 October 2018 Preparing for life after death

The Reverend Canon Charles Royden

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ NRSV

A guy goes to heaven and is shown his house and new car by an angel. He gets a Ford Mondeo and  told that he has lived a good life. He see a chap in an Aston Martin and the angel tells him that this is because he had lived a very good life. ‘So why is that guy on a bike over there’ asks the  new owner of the Mondeo. The angel replies ‘That’s the vicar’

We know so many of these jokes don’t we?  Pearly gates stories and so on, the after life is something which intrigues us and worries us.
So James and John want some guarantees this morning from Jesus about their eternal future. Or if Matthew is to be believed it was not them who asked but their mother who put them up to it.

They ask Jesus  
‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’   Mark 10

This desire to sort out in this life our future in the next life is nothing new. Humanity through all ages has been concerned about where we come from and fundamentally of course about where we are going. We are all concerned to know where we came from, but we are even more concerned to know if we are going to be safe when we die.

Across time we can see how different cultures tried to take care of arrangements after death
Corinne and I went recently to see the Terracota Army exhibition in Liverpool. Only a small part of the huge necropolis in China has been excavated and the tomb itself, no doubt complete with amazing wonders, has not been excavated at all. Apparently when the artefacts are uncovered they crumble and paint falls off and they decay and the Chinese seem a  lot more respectful in terms of digging up of their ancestors than we are. So it may never happen

This was the emperor Qin Shi Huang who united China with his dynasty and built the Great Wall. The underground city is about 40 square miles and there are  8,000 figures, 600 horses, 160 chariots and so on.
The tradition was that as soon as you became a king you were expected to start building your tomb. You had to varnish it once a year so that you were always ready for your death.
In your tomb you should have all of the stuff you needed in the afterlife and the people you needed to serve you in the afterlife, soldiers, musicians and acrobats and animals. The point about all of this of course is that we were never supposed to see it, these were not for the eyes of the living. Qin wanted to have the same military power and imperial status as he had enjoyed in his earthly life. Of course not every need would be satisfied by the models so you needed real people too who were killed to take with you, officers, officials and concubines.

His necropolis is magnificent in scale but he was not unique in preparing for life after death, its just that he was more powerful than anybody before him and he didn’t know when to stop.
In 1964 the tomb was found of Duke Jing (576–537 BC), who ruled some 13 generations before the first emperor. Altogether, 186 people committed suicide or were killed in order to ‘follow’ the duke into the next world.

Its all fascinating stuff but of course the Chinese are not unique. Different cultures across the time have expressed the same human need to prepare for life after death. After visiting the Terracota Army we went to the Liverpool Ancient Egypt gallery and Mummy Room in the same building and there you have the same sort of thing from Egypt. Egyptians believed death was only a temporary interruption to life. For the ancient Egyptians, life continued even after death – in the “afterlife”. ... To ensure that the dead had a comfortable afterlife, various funerary practices, procedures and rituals were carried out, such as mummification and reverence to the gods.
Egyptians preserved the body so the dead could use it in the afterlife. Mummification was a vital process in ancient Egyptian funerals so that the soul could return to the body. The ancient Egyptians believed that when they died their spiritual body would continue to exist in an afterlife very similar to their living world. However, entry into this afterlife was not guaranteed. The dead needed spells to negotiate a dangerous underworld journey and face the final judgment before they were granted access. The conclusion came when your heart was weighed and you had to earn immortality. To enter your  afterlife, you had to have a light heart. Light hearts were earned from a lifetime of doing good deeds. The God Anubis weighed your heart and if your heart was heavy you were eaten by The God Ammut. 

We could study lots of past cultures but this is not an old longing surpassed by modern life. In Hong Kong, arguably one of the most materialistic cultures in the world, you will see people burning paper Iphones and Luis Viton bags to send to their ancestors.

Stephen Hawking suggested that death can be likened to the brain
‘as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,”
He said
“There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

However this is only a position of belief that there is no god, not science. Science can help us understand our origin as a species, it can study empirically, it can observe and experiment but there is loads of stuff which science just does not know and it can’t help us to have a settled mind about death.
Einstein said that
'Science can only ascertain what is, not what should be and outside its domain value judgements are necessary.'

Science can tell us lots of things, it can tell us that the universe came into being from an enormous bang and may have originated from the tiny source. But it cannot solve the ‘riddle of the universe’ where the seed of creation which produced life came from. Neither can it tell us what lies behind the veil of death itself.

In truth most people just do not feel like Hawking’s computers, we have a spiritual dimension which transcends flesh and blood. Just because we are more scientific today doesn’t mean we are any less concerned about life after death.

Jesus spoke a great deal about the importance of being prepared for the after life and the reward in heaven was a recurring theme of his teaching (see some verses at end of sermon). In our reading today Jesus speaks of himself giving his life ‘a ransom for many.’  Life beyond death is something promised by Jesus, in its most simple form he promises

n my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.    John 14

It is unsurprising that the disciples want reassurance, they had received from Jesus a glimpse of what was to come. We are told in just the previous chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel that James and John had been with Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah and Moses. Remember that these were dead people !  They had received a vision of who Jesus was and this was more than just an earthly ruler. When they say that they want a seat next to Jesus in ‘glory’ they are trying to secure a lasting reward. They know that the future of life and death belongs to Jesus and they want to have a powerful place in that future. They want some guarantees in place as to what life is going to be like for them beyond this earthly life.  They want reassurance that in glory things will be OK for them.

Jesus has also spoken of what is coming two chapter earlier in Mark 8

or whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 


The disciples understood that Jesus held the keys to glory, he had power over life and death and  James and John want to be part of that. Jesus opens their minds to what it takes to be part of that everlasting life.

The good news for the Christian is that there is no need to get stuff together to take stuff with you when you die to secure your future like Emperor Qin. Christians have never filled their coffins, graves or tombs with stuff which they will need to take with them into the afterlife. Indeed Jesus spoke against worrying about goods which would only be destroyed by rust and moths or stolen by thieves. There was no special knowledge such as the Egyptians believed you needed spells to negotiate the afterlife. Neither would God weigh your heart to see if you had lived a good enough life to be allowed to live or be destroyed.

The promise of Jesus to those who wish to know his promises for eternity is simply to trust in him.  No need for any personal contribution just a willingness to place our faith and trust in the one with keys to eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 

Jesus says that the eternal life is given only through faith in him and if you wish to receive a great reward from God, then seek not a desire to earn or display power but a willingness to accept the role of servant.

As we meet this morning Ordinary time is passing over into Advent and we will remember the God who empties himself of power who gives of his life to give eternal life to others. Today we take of the bread and wine to remind ourselves of his body and blood given for us as the most supreme sacrifice. we come with empty hands and we take God’s good gifts, his guarantee that ours souls are safe in his keeping.



Jesus said that  we should

Matthew 5:10-12  "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great;

Luke 6:22-23 "Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven

Matthew 16:27 "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds

John 14:3  "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

Matthew 19:28-39  And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.”

Matthew 5:11-12  “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 6:1-6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 6:16-18 “And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

Matthew 6:20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…”

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.