God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not as a stranger." These powerful words are in the opening anthem in the Rite 1 service of the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer. And what makes them even more powerful is the fact that they are taken from the Book of Job, from the passage we read this morning.
Most of us are familiar with the Book of Job. It's about suffering, and its about faith and hope. Job has not only lost everything that he has had on earth - his family, his livestock, his property - but he has also been afflicted with several painful, physical ailments. His friends try to tell him that he must have done something to displease God, that in someway all of this is his fault. But Job insists that he has not disobeyed God and he continues to have faith in God's love for him. Although Job rants for 37 chapters about how angry he is with God and how unfair his suffering is, he never turns his back on God. He never renounces God, but instead calls God his Redeemer whom he will one day see. Even after all he has endured, Job's faith is strong.
In our gospel lesson, the Sadducees, who do not believe in life after death, come to Jesus to ask him a question. Actually, they are not interested in having a dialogue with him. They are trying to force him into a corner by asking a ridiculous question about marriage. They want to humiliate Jesus and show onlookers that Jesus is not trustworthy or knowledgeable. Now Jesus could have taken their question as a personal attack, knowing what the Sadducees were up to and he could have walked away and ignored them. But instead he turns it into a teachable moment to talk about the love and mercy of God.
What if a man and a woman marry and the man dies without having any children? The Sadducees believed that the oldest brother would then marry the woman so that the first born son would be considered the dead brothers heir and would inherit his land and his name. Then the dead man's name would not be erased from history. So what if all seven brothers marry this woman and they all die and there are still no children? Whose wife would this woman be after she dies? Who would she belong to?
First of all, Jesus advocates for the woman. She is treated like property, passed from one brother to the next with little regard for what she may want. They seem to show no empathy for this woman who has had to bury seven husbands, and has no children to support her in her old age.
Jesus then tells the Sadducees that things in heaven will not be the way they are on earth. There is no need for marriage, no need for procreation, in heaven because no one will die. We will all be like the angels. The Sadducees seem to think that resurrection is nothing more than the continuation of this life as it is on earth. But Jesus is saying that in heaven, there will be no more giving women away as if they were property. Everyone will be equal. Everyone will be free. Everyone will be loved. Resurrection life will not be just a continuation of this earthly life. In eternal life, God's reign will be fully established.
This was certainly good news for slaves, for those oppressed by race, or class, or creed or any other box that others have put them in. No labels like too big, too slow, too young, uneducated, or learning disabled. In the resurrection, there are no boxes. In the resurrection, the playing field is level. No one has power over another. No one is inferior. No more rich or poor, powerful or powerless. Not in the kingdom of God.
The Sadducees only had as their scripture the first 5 books of the Bible - the Torah, the books of Moses. So Jesus refers to Moses and the burning bush, a story they would know. In that story, Moses speaks in the present tense of the Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was, is, and continues to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are not dead, Jesus points out, but they are alive in God. God is in charge of their lives. God is God of the living and the dead, those whose earthly lives have ended. So the patriarchs are alive in heaven with God, but it is a different kind of life than we have on earth.
Our vision of God's future is too small, too stuck in this world to fully realize what God has in store for us in the resurrection. It is a place of peace and joy and fellowship with God and is particularly enjoyed by those who were oppressed or suffered greatly on earth. We will become new beings, like the angels who do not die. Angels live close to God. Angels have different bodies. Angels are genderless. Angels live forever.
Our life continues after death, not just in memorials and the memories of those who come after us in this world. Life continues in heaven in a new way, a wonderful way, a spiritual way. The resurrection occurs because God gives life to the living and life to those who have died.
"I am the resurrection and the life saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and not as a stranger. For none of us liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord, and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's."
Whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's. God holds us in life and in death. That is our faith, that is our hope, that is our strength. Amen.
(Some ideas taken from "Synthesis", November 13, 2019)
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