St. Mary's Nanoose
November 10, 2019 (Remembrance Day)
I can remember at the tender age of 7, lying on the couch in the sunroom, wondering about my grandmother. I had just learned that I had been named after her - Selinde - but I had never met her. She had died long before I was born. My father told me stories about her so she was quite alive and real in my imagination, but, she was dead. Gone. If she had existed, I knew she still had to be somewhere. But where? My solution to that problem was to have her floating out in space. That worked for a short while. Until I imagined how cold and lonely she would be. I started crying and ran to find my mother for solace. I’m not sure she totally understood what I was on about but held me until I calmed down. I remember that day clearly because my question about where Grandmother Selinde was, was never answered.
Today’s reading from Luke concerns the afterlife, except in this passage, Jesus gives an answer and a very clear one at that. The Sadducees asked Jesus a trick question trying to humiliate him in front of his followers.
Who were the Sadducees? They were the religious leaders of the day who had primary authority over the temple. They were a sect of Jews that believed only in the first part of the Old Testament– the Pentatuch. “Penta” means “5” so ….what are the first five books of the Old Testament? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Sadducees didn’t believe the other books of the Hebrew Bible to be authoritative. So the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection because in the Penteteuch, there was no reference to it.
A different religious sect, the Pharisees, in contrast, did believe in the other books of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible – the Historical, Wisdom and Prophetic books.
So in this morning’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, the Sadducees are referring to the passage from Deuteronomy which explains the way that heads of family are to protect and continue the family line. If a man dies, his brother is to marry the widow, thereby providing for the woman and ensuring the brother’s line through his offspring.
They put the impossible case to Jesus. If there were 7 brothers, all who die in succession, each marrying the widow of the first, whose wife will she be in the so-called “after life”?
Jesus’ answer is clear and two-fold. Firstly, he says, “as children of the resurrection,” the laws and reality of this world have no bearing on what life with God beyond death will be. This might not seem like much of an answer but really, it is. Basically Jesus is saying that life after death is unlike anything we can imagine. So he doesn’t bother describing in words what cannot, in truth, be described. But he gives the clear sense that there is life after death, and it is with God. He infers that the limits of our relationships on earth are transcended when he says, “Those who die are like angels and children of God.” This is infinitely reassuring.
The second point Jesus makes is that our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He reminds the Saducees that in scripture Moses asserts that God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. In other words, a God of the living, not of the dead. And all who come from this lineage, the Jews and the Muslims (and ultimately us Christians) – those of us who live in relationship with God, will live on. This too, is infinitely comforting.
And by his life and death, Jesus gives us the ultimate confirmation of the resurrection. Life is a mystery. Death is real. And death is not the final word. We can not know what happens after death but we have the promise and the resurrection.
Our God is a God of the living. There are many ways we participate in a living relationship with the dead. Ways that give us hope, comfort and a sense of promise.
One obvious way we touch into resurrection is through the keeping alive of memories. You will know what I’m talking about. When we tell others, especially our children and grandchildren, stories of our loved one who has died, we bring that person back to life. In this way, we see how stories and memories transcend death.
Another way we touch into this life that transcends death is through our collective history. We are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and when we learn about our history, which is Jesus’ history, we become part of something larger than ourselves. We become part of God’s walk through the world and through time. We can learn, be inspired, feel part and know we are not alone because of our collective history.
Yet another way death doesn’t seem so final is the experience many of us have sensing the presence of a loved one who has passed on. I, for example, have had the sense of my parents cheering me on when I find myself in a difficult. And hopefully all of us have experienced the presence of Jesus in some way at some time in our lives.
The last way I want to mention is through prayer. As Anglicans, we say we believe in the communion of saints - the community of believers through time. We pray for those who have gone before us, and they pray for us. Our bond bridges the veil between life and death.
These mysterious, profound and ultimately very real ways bridging life and death give us the reassurance that death is not the final word and that resurrection is something we can look forward to with certainty. How it will look, feel, or be – we honestly can’t say. But we have the assurance. And claiming that assurance gives us the courage and calm to proceed without giving into fear and despair.
Today we particularly stop to think and bring to life those who lost their lives in service of freedom and democracy. In this way, we refuse death, hatred and war to have the final word. We focus on the courage, the selflessness, the love and commitment of those who fell in battle. We do not forget them; we keep their stories alive; we take inspiration from them to work for peace in the world, and we look for them in the resurrection.