Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013
Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 17:1-9;
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17;
‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, (John 11:25)
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19)
For me – and I would guess for many of you – these are very powerful words. They’re the words of Scripture that begin our burial services – our funerals. When we come face to face with the death of someone we love – and at the same time we feel an utter desperation and confusion because of our loss – the Church’s answer, Jesus’ answer, is this bold, straight forward statement of our Christian faith, our belief in the life that follows our physical death.
Given that this belief is so deeply a part of our Christian being, the first part of the gospel reading today can sound rather strange to our ears – it actually sounds bizarre and contrived and even a bit trite:
In this hypothetical story with seven weddings and seven funerals, we have too many marriages, too many men and definitely way too much death! The Sadducees, who don’t even believe in the resurrected life, are trying to trick Jesus by getting him to respond to an impossible question about the resurrection.
According to the ancient Jewish law, according to Torah, if there are two brothers in a family, and one of brothers dies before his wife has any children, then his unmarried brother marries her to carry on the family. But what if there are seven brothers in the family, and each marries the woman in turn? The question the Sadducees are asking is: To whom will she belong at the resurrection? Whose wife will she be in the next life?
Jesus gets himself out of the trick question directly by stating that in the resurrection there will be no giving or taking in marriage. Since there will be no marriages, Jesus is telling them that as he sees it – this is a non-issue!
The Sadducees’ contrived question was a stupid question. But it did open the door for Jesus to talk more about two different issues: namely – the resurrection of the dead and second, the way we think about how we will relate to one another after the resurrection.
Technically speaking – there’s no need for marriage because in that final fullness of time when there is no death, there is also no need to repopulate the world.
Marriage is an example of an institution of this age, this world, not part of the age to come. The rules here are different. But most important: we all remain children of God for ever . . .
But what about all of us who are counting on seeing our loved ones in the life beyond? –
For the present, we have to live in faith with what this means. It’s hard for us to imagine living in a peace and joy that doesn’t include the people we have known and loved in this life – and this may be a very real fear that we experience.
But I believe we will be united again – in fact, I believe that in moments of grace and clarity we know that we are already united – that the kingdom of God has already come very near, and we are already very close to those we love but see no more. I believe in the communion of saints – for me it is a most practical, vivid and living reality.
Jesus teaching on all this lies in today’s Gospel in the reminder about the story of the burning bush:
In God’s own words to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” – and from this assurance, Jesus draws a conclusion: God is the God of the living, and since God is also the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then these patriarchs are alive – alive in God.
Another much loved reading from our burial liturgy is from first Corinthians where the apostle Paul writes: “What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
Exactly how all this will come about, of course, we don’t know – “but we will all be changed.”
And this is Jesus’ point: Whatever the resurrection is, it is totally different from what we have known. But the center of the resurrection will definitely be the One we have always known, however dimly in this lifetime.
In resurrection, things that are inconsequential in the realm of eternity will fall away – and everything that is Real – everything that is Love — will surround us and carry us into eternal Light.
In this mysterious change we will all become truly and completely alive again – alive for the first time . . .
Let us pray:
O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light:
Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.