Canon Claude Schroeder. Luke 20: 27—38
At the end of the service today we will be calling to mind and grieving the loss of the millions of war dead in conflicts past and present, and offering prayers for them and for the world. You know the older you get, the more funerals you end up going to, and after a while you have more friends and family who are dead than alive. You are reminded of the prospect of your own death, and the need to prepare.
Nobody likes to talk about this. in the face of the widespread denial of death, and the need for people to talk about it, we are witnessing the emergence of ‘death cafes’ in Canada and around the world. Have you heard about this? This is a place where you can go and eat cake, drink tea, and openly discuss death without people giving you strange looks. Here at St. Mary’s we actually have a death cafe’, and we are open for business. It’s called the Rector’s study, except there is no cake, just tea and conversation.
The American theologian Fr. John Behr, has argued that the Church needs to “take back” death from the culture. What does he mean? In traditional society, people died at home, surrounded by family and friends, and the hymns, the prayers and the presence of the Church as they lay dying, at the moment of death, and afterwards. Then they had their bodies lovingly cared for and brought to the Church for a prayer service in the evening, a prayer vigil that continued through the night, culminating in a celebration of the Eucharist next morning and a “mercy meal.”
So what happens in modern society? First of all, you find yourself in hospital room hooked up to beeping machine that has to be turned off in order to let you die. Family members pop in and out, or only get called in at the last minute, and the priest not at all. The body is then handed over to the mortician who goes to work making the corpse look as life-like as possible, or it is quickly disposed of at the crematorium, after which we have a ceremony at which the dead body is not present in order to “celebrate the life” of the person who is now gone!
Is there not something wrong with this picture? It means that many people don’t actually get to see death. Why is this a problem? If Christ shows us what it means to be God in the way He dies as a human being, then not seeing death means not seeing the face of God. Have you not looked into the face of a dead man? Then you haven’t seen the face of God. So, the Church needs to “take back” death from the culture. But if we are going to take death back, we need to take the hope back that we have lost in the face of death.
So, what is the Christian hope in the face of death? Your answer to this question depends very much on what you believe about God, who you believe God to be, and what you believe God has done. The stakes could not be higher, because belief determines behavior and gives shape to your experience of life. One of the reasons we come to church every week is so that we might not only be informed as to the Christian faith, and to be built up in that faith, but also, if need be, to have our false beliefs exposed, challenged and corrected through an encounter with the Truth, who is Jesus Christ. This is exactly what we see happening in our Gospel lesson for today.
Here in Luke, Chapter 20, Jesus has just made His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where, as you recall, He asserted His authority over the Temple and upset a lot of people when He cleared out the traders and the money changers. Jesus is a “dead man walking” as various groups associated with the Temple come forward in an attempt to seize on some objectionable word Jesus speaks that would allow them to hand Him over to the authority of the governor, to do you know what…
The Sadducees were one of those groups, and they comprised the wealthy upper class of leading citizens of Jewish society, responsible both for the maintenance of the worship of the Temple, but also various roles in government. The Sadducees were the money people and the power brokers and rightly perceive Jesus is a threat.
St. Luke highlights for us the main theological belief of the Sadducees, “they did not believe in the Resurrection of the Dead.” When you die, it’s game over. We’ll see you at the Golf and Country Club for the celebration of life, where we will tell a few stories, have a few drinks, share a few laughs and then go home.
No Resurrection here. Sorry!
As if to demonstrate the absurdity of the Resurrection, the Sadducees tell Jesus the story of a man who died leaving his widow with no children. According to the law of Moses, it was the responsibility of the man’s brother to marry the widow and raise up children for his dead brother, as a way of thwarting death. What is my hope in the face death? My hope is that my name will live on through my children, or as we say to today, “
mom will live on in our hearts forever.” Some hope, eh?
But the reign and rule of death is not so easily thwarted. One brother after another marries the widow and ends up dying until all seven brothers are dead. How exhausting this must have been for the poor widow!
But never mind that, what the Sadducees want to know is, “In the Resurrection, whose wife will she be?” Meaning, “How the dead be raised, if we can’t tell who is married to whom?”
What does Jesus have to day about this? What Jesus says in the resurrection of the dead there is both continuity and discontinuity.
The continuity consists in the fact of an embodied existence. Just as you and I have come to church today as embodied spirits [with flesh and bones, skin and hair, so it will be in the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Our life will be an embodied one. That this is so is evidenced by the Resurrection of
Jesus Himself, who at the end of Luke’s Gospel appears to the apostles who think they were seeing a ghost. And Jesus said to them, “Touch me and see for yourself.; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.” (Luke 24.39).
Judging from the way Christians often talk about our hope in the face of death, I don’t think this has really sunk in. People talk about “life after death,” and “going to heaven to be with Jesus.” As if that was the final destination. Where in the Creeds does it say this? Nowhere. What we find is a confession of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Or as Bishop Tom Wright, puts it, “ Christians don’t believe in life after death. We believe in life after life after death.”
If in the Resurrection there is a continuity of embodied life, what is the discontinuity? “Those,” Jesus says, “who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead (nothing automatic here) neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
In the embodied state of the Resurrection, there will be no need for marriage, no need for sexual relations, no need for children to perpetuate the family name, because we will all be children of God, being children of the Resurrection. In the resurrection, there will be no more death. It will in Paul’s words, be swallowed up by life. We will be like the angels in the sense that our bodies will be transformed, glorified and filled with the radiant energies of God, no longer subject to corruption and decay, and we will know, love, enjoy, God’s immediate Presence, and know, love, and enjoy one another’s presence unbroken by sin.
So why did the Sadducees not hold to this? The answer is that this belief in the resurrection of the dead is something only really comes to the fore in the writing of the prophets of the Old Testament, as in our lesson today where Job says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19. 27)
But the Sadducees did not regard the prophets as authoritative in matters of faith, restricting the Scriptures to the first five books of Moses, which is why Jesus goes on to remind the Sadducees of the story in the book of Exodus where God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, declaring Himself to be the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, who by that time had all died.
What does that tell us? God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” God holds all of His faithful ones in life as they await the resurrection of the dead. So the Resurrection is right there in the Law of Moses!
You maybe be wondering, so what? I have to get up tomorrow morning and go to work? What difference does Resurrection make to my life now?
If the Sadducees made the mistake of looking at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come through the lens of this world, what would happen if we flipped this around? What would happen if you looked at our life here on this earth through the lens of the life of the world to come?
This would be a game changer.
So for example, what does the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come do to the belief that in order to lead a truly meaningful and fulfilling life, I have to be married, have sexual relations, and have children, and if I don’t there must be something wrong with me? Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection blows that idea right out of the water, and shows it to be a false belief. Did Jesus marry? Did he have kids? Did he have sex? No. But we conclude that He lived a truly human life.
The presence of chaste single people, widows, married couples and childless couples within the Church is a vitally important witness to the future reality which one day we are all going to share in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come when God will be all in all.
How does the resurrection of the dead speak to this vexed problem that we have over human identity? lt’s idea that who you are is a function of what you do, like your career. Or your identity is a function of your race or your culture or even your gender, take your pick, your sexual orientation, take your pick, or your marital status, take your pick.
Jesus’ teaching concerning the resurrection blows these beliefs right out of the water and shows them to be false. Our identity, as baptized Christians, is found in our being children of God, being children of the Resurrection, people in whom the power of God to save is mightily at work through faith in Jesus Christ.
How then does the Resurrection impact our view of relationships? It gives us an expansive view, where like the angels give ourselves to prayer for the salvation of the world, and see ourselves as God’s messengers and servants to everyone in this world to whom God sends us. With respect to prayer, the Resurrection teaches us to go deeper into our bodies in silence and stillness, and with respect our bodies, and those of others, especially that of the woman, the Resurrection teaches us to treat them with the greatest of care, reverence, and respect.
Finally, what does the resurrection do our experience of grief? We know this sadness that we carry around with us, this ache that we have in our hearts, will be transformed into joy. As St. Paul wrote, we grieve, but “not as those without hope” (1Thess. 4.13) which would explain why Christians sing at funerals.
The Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. It really is a game changer for how we live life in this world. Of course, it takes faith in order to do this. it not only takes faith, it takes a church in order to do this. It is the place to which we have come this morning where we learn to put into practice now, what will be in the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.