Today the Sadducees are getting a bad rap in the gospel. It’s the first thing we hear-they don’t believe in the resurrection! But I got to wondering, how about us?
What do WE mean when we say we believe in resurrection? I asked a lot of people this week.
One friend says it simply means God promises life after death. Another said-life never ends, even if it seems like it from a human viewpoint. God's life-giving power will always be more powerful than death and destruction. The crucified and risen Christ is the ultimate promise of redemption and new life for all of creation.
Someone else said-It means that the fundamental character of God is to bring life from death. We receive that promise through Christ and we can depend on it throughout our life and beyond. It doesn't mean that life doesn't pass away. It means that we can depend on God's character to bring life from death…and it's a promise that all can trust in. As a Christian it means that I've been given the Spirit in order to participate in God's action.
Another friend shared-God is constantly creating and recreating. Now. And in the future. We see new life everywhere. Isn’t that resurrection?
Then I talked to our afterschool kids who told me that God's new life comes in how God gives us blessings in this life and promises more to come. Probably with lots of gold and fluffy clouds. "After all Pastor, the Bible says there's a lot of gold!"
And others told me about pets in the afterlife, and I starting imagining My Little Pony. But who’s to say?
I was struck though-all of the answers I got focused upon Life more than death. While many adults focused on the life to come, our kids whose lives are just as complicated think it matters where God is giving life now, even as some of them are still actively mourning the killing in our neighborhood of their friend Wilberto a few months ago.My seminary President chimed in on Facebook and shared that he has a friend who is an Episcopal priest who always announced a death saying, "Jane/John has moved on into the larger life of God." I love that image! But I would expand it- it’s not only about the great hereafter. We gather here and say that gathered in the name of Christ we can experience this earthy and earthly life as a foretaste of the feast to come. Moments where the larger life of God come to us now. Resurrection starts now and resurrection extends beyond our horizon. But you know, I am also struck by the notion in the gospel today that as much as God desires us to live in this altered reality, God is not making us believe in resurrection. The Sadducees weren’t buying it.
On Wednesday night when we talked about this week’s gospel and right away the question was-just who were those Sadducees? They were a small group within Judaism in Jesus’ day who had a particular view. Just like lots of people claim to be Christians but the message can be different, so too in Jesus’ day there were different viewpoints in Judaism. The Sadducees believed that even though there were more scrolls others considered to to the Hebrew Scripture, for them,only the first five books mattered- Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus. That’s it. Most others felt God had more to say; they did not. The rest of the words on the scrolls were helping many develop a belief in life after death by the power of God-resurrection. But not the Sadducees. They also only believed that God was in the one temple in Jerusalem- and that’s where they were, so much so it kind of felt like “their” house. So when Jesus has come to Jerusalem and gone straight to the temple and set up shop day after day, it’s like he has occupied “Their” house. They’re miffed. So they come and ask him the question we hear today about an idea they don’t even believe in-resurrection. They can’t imagine even if there is more after this life, that it will look any different than their expectation. Instread they think the way you live on is that your name is carried on by your children- literally your seed lives. That’s why all those barren women matter. People are only children of our earthly creators. Even if there was an afterlife, for that poor woman, afterlife would mean continuing to try to produce that child-hardly paradise. Then Jesus shakes them up by quoting about Moses back to them- God is bringing life out of what seems like death, and the barrenness of the childless but it’s a whole different world. Larger than their vision.
It’s larger but we don’t know much. What will resurrection of the body and that next life be like? Over time this has generated tons of questions. During the Crusades and times of war when people lost hands or feet or heads and whole bodies could not be returned, people worried about how their body would be resurrected if not all of it had been buried. Some people literally went around worried about fingernails! Others worried about what if the ashes blew away, how would that work? How could God fix that? In our data gathering world, if we can’t have proof, we aren’t so sure. Perhaps a modern day version of what we will accept versus not. It’s why books about what heaven will be like are popular. It’s only natural we want to know. And for those missing dear departed saints we just named last week, it’s fresh. How will we know them? What will we look like? Us, only better? Or what it will look like- our favorite time? Who will be there? What about people we don’t want there, who we don’t want to see? We hope Jesus knows how to arrange our next house when he says that there are many dwelling places. When we say we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting week after week what do we know? Whatever the concern, we all worry how God will do it, or sometimes wonder if God even can.
Kind of like the Sadducees- we can fall victim to relying only on our vision, not trusting in the larger life of God. The God who says- you see all this? I created it. You can trust in what seems beyond your full vision. For the Sadducees, life came to a dramatic halt when their temple was destroyed 70 AD- since that was the only place God was, and it was gone, they just couldn’t go on. If, like the Sadducees, we limit our vision to imagine God’s love or power, that smaller view will not bring life for us either. It’s true we don’t know much, but we know God is powerful, God keeps promises and we will be with Jesus.
Now I come back again to what words people shared about resurrection- here’s what I see-all those responses were not so much about death but life. Life! That’s the mysterious good news. God who gave us life, gives life. And the promise that more lies beyond this life. And in the meantime, we live in this life, and we should live! And it’s life with God! God who is in our beginnings and endings is in all of the in between as well, both the glorious and the frightening. Inviting us to live as those given promises, and power-resurrection now. This is the larger life of God. Where is it found? In all those new life moments-when we remember we are already God’s children claimed in baptism at this font. When we hear that we are freed from our failures and struggles to live anew each Sunday to start worship. When we hear that Jesus Christ is love and food and healing for us each time we gather at this table. When we get that second chance in relationships, or that new lease on life in some part of our lives. Moments of peace we didn’t expect that helps us carry on-resurrection. Given by a God who even more than life is love. That’s this cross for us. God loving us into life after all the kinds of death we experience.
In the end, this is what all the words we say when we gather remind us of- In Christ, this life and love proclaim we are children of God forever. Children again this day invited even deeper into the larger life of God.