Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019
Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17
On this Remembrance Day, our scripture reading from Luke’s gospel prompts the question as to the nature of the legacy that we could leave. There are many people who pursue immortality in many ways. 1.) Some spend billions on research in search of the technology or genetics or pharmaceuticals or a whole host of things they hope will allow humans, someday, to defy death or radically extend our span of life.
Of course, it’s not just those with money who want not to be forgotten, and it isn’t new.
Although truth be told, even the Bible is full of stories of families in conflict and disputed inheritances and children who cause their parents grief in their old age, so we know children are no guarantee of life on our terms living on past our deaths.
And what about those without children?
This is the problem in the midst of the Sadducees’ riddle told to Jesus to ridicule the resurrection. The custom they describe still practiced in some parts of the world is a way to try to ensure that a child is produced if a man has died and leaves a childless widow behind. The dead man’s brother fathers, or tries to, a child with the widow so that the deceased man will have an heir and his widow will have a child. She will not be alone. His name will be remembered. The life of the father will continue through the child.
But there is nothing but death in the Sadducees’ riddle. Brother after brother dies without producing an heir. Time and time again, the widow does not bear a child. Finally, she too dies. Who will remember her? Who will carry on the name and traditions of the family?
“Ah”, say the Sadducees, “all is not lost, we suppose if you believe in the resurrection, which we do not. If there is a resurrection, perhaps she will not be alone after all. She has been the wife of seven men. Which will be her husband in the resurrection? To whom will she belong?”
Jesus gives a startling answer. Not only does Jesus promise there is a resurrection, but He changes all the terms in the Sadducees’ riddle. Not only is life in that age, the resurrection, not just some everlasting version of life in this age, but if this woman is getting into heaven, it’s because she is a child of God, not because she’s a wife, or a widow, or a mother. It won’t be because she was barren or fertile or married or widowed or forgotten or remembered on earth. It’s because she is, as Jesus says, “considered worthy of a place in that age,” and, like everyone else who enters the resurrection, “cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
Jesus says that in the resurrection, life will be different. There are things like marriage and customs around marriage and family life that are for this age. In that age, in the resurrection, your concerns about things like living on through others, like leaving behind someone to remember you, like dealing with the hardships of wanting something really badly or being told you should have something you can’t, won’t be important. What will matter is being children of God.
Living has many difficulties, and dying often looks like a frightening ordeal. But death itself — when faced head-on and pondered in the light of the scripture like the one we heard today — is revealed as a gracious reality that frees and heals everyone.
On Remembrance Day, I pray that we might be comforted by such thoughts. 2.) Tomorrow, I will remember not just the terrible losses of war but also the Apostle Paul’s words that death has lost its sting (1 Cor. 15).
No one wants young people to die in war, whether 100 years ago in Europe or today in Syria and Iraq. But I am comforted when I remember that death — even in war — brings a person to their completion. We don’t wish that completion to happen to anyone in the flower of youth. But whenever death comes — at age 17 or age 107 — we give thanks that in the light of Christ we know it has lost its sting. Death returns all suffering individuals to our Creator-God who loves us, regardless of our weaknesses or human comparisons.
But what do these thoughts mean when we focus on resurrection in the here and now? For me, the path of dying and rising found on the Way of Jesus describes the arc of life. In our youth, we grow and change. At many points, we stumble and move into crisis. With grace, these crises sometimes help us to die to old ways and be born-again into a life of the Spirit that is closer to love.
Being family with Jesus wouldn’t be easy, and surely all the children don’t always get along. They often squander their inheritance. They don’t always pass along the important traditions as they should. They sometimes ignore or don’t live up to the family resemblance. They need all the help of the good relationships of this age they can make and that can be nurtured by the church because this age is hard.
And yes, Sadducees ancient and new, there is a resurrection. And those who will live in that age will be there whether their names were remembered in this age or not. That’s because they are remembered by God, the God of the living and not the God of the dead. This is the God who is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, is, not was, because even these ancient and flawed patriarchs are very much alive in God, our God. Our God is the constant — thanks be to God — between this age and the age to come.
1) From “Sermons that Work” at https://episcopalchurch.org
2) From a Remembrance Day, November 6, 2016, sermon shared on http://www.millwoodsunited.org/on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven/
Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
Use back button to return to main page.