Here of late, it seems death has been ever-present to us. This very afternoon we will have a memorial service to remember and honor our sister Evelyn.
Common wisdom tells us that death is a part of life. That is true in the sense that death is something every one of us experiences in this world. But death wasn’t natural part of God”s original creation until as Genesis tells us, Adam and Eve took the devil’s temptation and decided they were smarter than God. And since death isn’t natural, it causes us to grieve when someone dies. The death of a loved one leaves a hole in our life a hole that God never intended for us. God has promised us that through Jesus’ death and Resurrection this will all be remedied. We have been assured that even death will never separate us from God’s Love! In today’s Gospel reading from Luke Jesus is confronted by a group of Sadducees in the Jerusalem Temple.
The Sadducees were a sect of priests in the Second Temple period that consisted mainly of the Jewish aristocracy and they accepted the Torah as the only spiritual authority. The Sadducees believed the Torah spoke nothing of the resurrection, of Angels, and spiritual beings other than God. So, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees taught that when you died you ceased to exist. The Pharisees, on the other hand, taught that all righteous followers of the Law would be bodily resurrected from the dead at the end of time. Despite their theological differences they had one thing in common, they needed to discredit and stop Jesus' teachings.
The cult of the Sadducees died out after the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 of the common era, at least two generations before Luke’s Gospel was written, so the evangelist needed to remind his hearers that they did not believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees propose to Jesus a possible but very improbable scenario involving the Levirate (brother-in-law) marriage law from Deuteronomy. This law was for the protection of a widow and the continuation of a patriarchal lineage. If a man dies childless, his widow must marry his unmarried brother. The Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical situation where a woman is married to and widowed from seven brothers in succession and then she dies. Now that is a string of bad luck!
They ask, who is the woman married to in the resurrection?
I get a mental image of the group of Sadducees in their splendid robes chuckling to themselves as they futilely tried to trap Jesus. Now Jesus knew that they did not believe in the Resurrection and sees through their dishonest question. So, he uses the Torah to answer them. He cites from Genesis when Moses talked to the burning bush in the wilderness. and was told, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By using the present tense, I am, the Lord was saying, “Those three believers are still alive and with me. In fact, I’m looking at them right now.” The Lord “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”.
Jesus proved that even the limited Scripture accepted by the Sadducees discloses the truth of the resurrection. Jesus tells them that those worthy of the resurrection will be like angels, not angels but like angels. They cannot die anymore being children of the resurrection; they are children of God. In this controversy with the Sadducees, Jesus combined a belief in the afterlife with a belief in God. One was fused with the other.
Though a Greek notion, many Christians today and, indeed, throughout the centuries, have confused immortality with resurrection. But whereas immortality of the soul promises that some spiritual element of a person persists beyond the physical death of the body, resurrection insists that the whole person will in some way be united with God.
What Jesus points out to the Sadducees is that everlasting life is not simply the continuation of mortal life beyond death. Whatever the reality is on the other side of earthly life, we should not think of it as a continuation of this life that allows us to complete still incomplete works. Indeed, we must do now what we can do for the good, such as help the needy, work for the improvement of the human situation, resist self-centered threats to fellow humans and other creatures. As the letter to the Hebrews says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today.” (1) We are afforded by this to be children of the resurrection, children of God even now.
What does it mean for us at this moment to live as a child of the resurrection? How does the experience of Jesus, this example of Jesus- live on through us? How do we bear witness to the resurrection in our experience of others?
For us at this moment, in this time and this place, to live as a child of the resurrection is not a matter of physical life and physical death. It is to be transformed by the witness of Jesus and to live anew in that spirit. It is to be transformed by the Incarnational Jesus; words and deeds. (2)
In her compassion, God puts us in her heart, and we will not ever be excluded from it. We humans are not eternal, but God’s love for us humans is eternal. Our life does not continue constantly, but God’s mercy is unending toward those to whom he is merciful. As they were, so they are now in God. Because we are in God, this means that we are now healed from our illnesses and cleansed from our evils. We are children of the resurrection.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I appeal to you all to stand firm in your faith and the Hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. God chose us as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called us to this through the gospel that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. In bearing the heart of God, the force of justice, the sacred sense of compassion, and a vision for a better world right here and right now in the Reign of God.
Our world desperately needs that kind of spiritual force. We as children of the Resurrection carry it from here to a world that needs it each day going forward. Are you prepared to live that way?
We have been placed in God’s heart the source of all love so that we may radiate this love to the world, to raise all people to join in the resurrection. Our loved ones gone from earth, are not gone forever. They’ve gone to heaven where their souls are enjoying perfect peace and happiness with Jesus and all other believers before them, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Evelyn. The Bible teaches, and therefore we believe, that Christ will bring their living souls with him when he returns to reunite them and all with their glorified bodies on that day.
(1) Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ)
(2) Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ) (Kindle Locations 10678-10682). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.