a sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27C)
The Sadducees asked about human relationships after resurrection. But Jesus is only interested in our eternal relationship with God.
I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned it, but I happen to have a pair of identical twin granddaughters who are 14 months old. And when my daughter was pregnant, I came across this story:
Two babies were in their mother’s womb when one asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. I think we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“I don’t think so,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat through our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That’s crazy. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! Our umbilical cords supply all the nutrition we need. And our cords are so short. Life after delivery just isn’t logical.”
The second insisted, “Well, I think there’s something. Maybe it’s different from here. Maybe we won’t need this cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion.”
“I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
“Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is she now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live. Without her our world would not and could not exist.”
“Well, I’ve never seen her. I don’t believe She exists.”
The second twin thought for a while and then said, “Sometimes, when it’s very quiet and I focus and really listen, I can perceive her presence, and I can hear her loving voice, calling down from above.”
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is talking with a group of Sadducees. Now the Sadducees were a sect or a denomination of Judaism who did not believe in resurrection. And they decide to ask Jesus a question: Suppose a man and woman were married, and the man died before they had any children. Now according to the Law of Moses, the man’s brother could then marry her, protecting her from a life of poverty and giving her children. But suppose that one died, too; and suppose there were seven brothers, and they each married her, and each time dying before they had children. After she finally died (God bless her), whose wife would she be in the resurrection?
The Sadducees were trying to determine whether Jesus was one of them or not. But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he talks about something much, much bigger. He asks, “what does our resurrection life look like?”
We still ask this question today. There are dozens of books every year that talk about life after death, books like The Shack and Heaven is For Real, which imagine what our post-resurrection lives look like. Meanwhile the popular magazines frequently ask the same thing: Who was Jesus? Did he really rise back to life after he was crucified? Articles like these always seem to have just enough scientific evidence to make it seem plausible that there may possibly be a scientific explanation for what is, in the end, a statement of faith. They are like the Sadducees, asking us to choose: Faith or science? Resurrection of no? Which is it?
The Bible is pretty clear about the physical resurrection of Jesus and the promise that we, too, will one day rise from the dead. Our burial liturgy is full of images of it. And all of us have stood here time and again and proclaimed the words in the Creed that say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.” All of us who have either lost a loved one, or know someone who has, find comfort in this, the promise that we will see our loved ones all again.
At the same time, there are people, including some very notable bishops, priests, and theologians, who have trouble accepting the notion that Jesus was literally and physically raised from the dead. For them, the question is more spiritual; more a matter of resurrection of the soul.
Both sides debate the question, just like the Sadducees and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. But, the fact of the matter is that nobody walking on this earth can has ever experienced resurrection; nobody can tell us, “this is how it works.” In the end, it’s not a question of interpreting Biblical rules or a question of scientific theories and proofs. It is a question of faith.
So Jesus decides to avoid the debate all together. He looks beyond the silly human question about human relationships of a woman forced to marry seven brothers and talked instead about our relationship with God. “It doesn’t matter,” he says, “because our God is God of the living. And as far as God is concerned, all of them are living the Resurrection Life.
One of the most beautiful lines in our burial service comes from today’s Old Testament lesson, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has be destroyed, then in my flesh I will see God.” Job says this after he as lost everything – his family, his home, even his own health and body. He says this after everyone around him has abandoned him. He says this because even when all has been lost, our only solace is to turn and live in the everliving God.
Job is talking about Resurrection Life. Resurrection Life doesn’t look like the lives we are now living. None of our assumptions apply. It will be completely different from anything we’ve ever experienced – infinitely bigger, infinitely brighter, infinitely more rich and full than anything we have ever seen. No matter how wonderful your life is today, or how sorrowful, resurrection life is greater in every way.
As humans, we have a lot of difficulty imaging life after death, just as those babies had trouble imagining life after delivery. Our human perspective can’t comprehend what God has in store for us. Our human relationships are but dim reflections of our relationship with God. This is why for God, who lives outside of time and space, questions of who is married to whom, or who’s alive and who’s dead, are all pretty meaningless. The questions are irrelevant, because God’s love is infinite and God’s time is eternal. All who have died are alive, because all have returned to God.
I think of resurrection as “being restored back to God.” Whether our bodies are broken by death, or whether we have simply lost those things which make life worth living, in the end God is who matters, who restores us, who makes us whole. God is the beginning and the ending of our lives, and all that we are in between.
In the end, Jesus tells us this:
God is alive and is God of the living.
When you are with God you are alive, both now and after “delivery.”
To live with God is to live forever.
Thanks be to God.