Sunday, November 10, 2013

resurrection and the heavenly banquet

St. George’s Chapel
November 9, 2013

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.

“Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question…”

There are two main groups of Jewish leaders during Jesus’ time. If you’re like me, you get them confused. Just to clarify, the Sadducees are the rich and political group. They are conservative and only believe in the Torah. If the first five books don’t mention it, it doesn’t exist. So, since the word “resurrection” doesn’t appear in the Torah, the Sadducees don’t believe in the concept.

The Pharisees are even more religious. They honor the Torah, prophets, and the oral tradition handed down by Moses. They support the concept of resurrection.

Now, the Sadducees and the Pharisees are competing for attention from the people. Compare their arguments to current Congressional debates: each one wants their side to look the best. They take every chance they can get to make a stab at the other side. However, things are changing; the debate between them is not front page news material anymore. A certain carpenter’s son from Nazareth is a thorn in their side. They are trying to figure out a way to get Jesus out of the picture. So they start asking questions to trap Jesus into saying something that will be considered heresy. Getting a one-up on their opponents is an added bonus.  

“…those who say there is no resurrection…”

As I was reading this I wondered why they are talking about resurrection before Jesus has died. I mean, isn’t that a Christian concept? I think that here the term ‘resurrection’ applies to some sense of life after death, a different state of being. Jews of that day were not concerned so much with life after death, but focused on life in the present, emphasizing a relationship with God in the here and now. Reaping the benefits of faith today, not tomorrow. 

Back to the Gospel: the Sadducees describe a scenario where a woman marries her husband’s brothers. This law about marrying the brothers-in-law comes from Deuteronomy. The practice ensures not only that the widow is taken care of, but also that her husband’s lineage is maintained--including the land that goes with it. 

“So, Jesus, tell us, we’re curious. In the resurrection, whose wife is she gonna be? Because all of them married her.”

Cue Jesus: 
He has just come to Jerusalem on a donkey surrounded by a cheering crowd. He has cleansed the temple of sales people, which I imagine didn’t go over so well with the Sadducees. Despite this, he is still very popular, and the people are excited to see and hear him. But things are getting steamy with the leaders. Jesus has only got a week or two left. He knows they are trying to trap him. I can imagine there is a sense of urgency to his teaching. I bet he would have liked to shake a few people and knock some sense into them. But he doesn’t. 

I imagine Jesus shaking his head and responding with a sigh, “Look guys, you’re missing the point. Things that are important now are not going be in the resurrection. You won’t need to have a husband or wife to continue your lineage, because death won’t be a factor. Relationships are going to change. You won’t need to be married in order to experience intimacy, because the connection you’ll have with God will be more than enough. We can’t compare life on earth to life after death; we can’t make God conform to human standards. God’s love surpasses all understanding.”

“Oh, and p.s. in the Torah Moses proved that resurrection exists in the story of the burning bush. God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ not I was the God. Just because they don’t have a physical presence on earth doesn’t mean that they are no longer part of God’s plan.”

Well that stumps the Sadducees and the questioning is over. Jesus has just flipped their understanding of how the world works on its head. 

But where does this leave us today? How can we relate to this passage? 

The concept of resurrection, of life after death, is a huge mystery, and we tend to fear what we do not understand. That’s why stories about people who have had life-after-death experiences are so intriguing. We want to know what it’s going to be like so we don’t have to venture into the dark in fear. But while these stories of heaven may be at least partially true, I don’t think they can capture the whole picture. Jesus himself didn’t describe heaven in exact detail; he only compared heaven to things on earth, saying “heaven is like a woman who found her lost coin” or “heaven is like a shepherd who, having lost a sheep, leaves the rest of his flock to find it” or “in my Father’s house are many rooms...I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Luke 15: 8-10; Luke 15:3-7; John 14:2-4). 

These images, while conveying a sense of homecoming, leave out the details. I think in trying to understand heaven we can get caught up in trying to figure out these details and lose sight of the big picture that is the promise of eternal life in God (I know this all too well, being a detail-oriented person, myself). 

As much as I’d like to, I can’t give you the exact dimensions of heaven or describe specific activities of celestial beings. But I can tell you that out of God’s abundant love, God took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins, not his, and that after he died, he was resurrected. 

The amazing thing about resurrection is not just that life continues—we’ve already covered that things will be different in the next life. When Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, death no longer had ahold of us. To God, “all of [us] are alive,” whether or not we are living and breathing in this life (Luke 20:38). But even more importantly, this miracle repaired the connection between God and humankind that had been severed by human sin. Throughout time humans have repeatedly pushed God away, but despite this, God has never completely given up on us.

We’re always going to make mistakes—it’s human nature. But the grace of God is so radical that God looks past all of this, saying, “I love you just as you are right now, at this very moment. I forgive you for all that you have or haven’t done. I want to have a relationship with you, to be close to you, because I made you. You are my own, and my love for you will never fade.” 

And so each week we are invited to come to the table—Christ’s table. Communion is not only a time of remembrance of God’s incredible love for us, it gives us the chance to re-member, to join together with our brothers and sisters in becoming the body of Christ. To become reconnected with God and with each other so that we can go out into the world, praising God for the gift of this life and the life to come. 

In the Eucharist, we start getting a taste (literally) of the heavenly banquet, of what it’s going to be like when the resurrection comes. What is coming is far more glorious than we can even attempt to explain. But we live with the promise made at our baptism, that we are Christ’s own forever, and nothing can break that promise. As St. Paul assures us, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). 

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