Monday 7 November 2022

To God they are all alive

Job 19.23-27a I know that my redeemer lives

2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-end May the Lord strengthen you in everything good that you do or say

Luke 20.27-38 He is God, not of the dead, but of the living


‘Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’




Well, this morning’s Gospel reading puts a big question in front of us.


I suppose you could put it like this: if our Easter faith, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is true, then what happens to us when we die?


This is the question underlying the passage we have heard read.


The Sadducees frame the question in a totally theoretical, and almost comical, way.


It is a hypothetical scenario of a woman marrying seven brothers in turn, as each one dies.


The Sadducees who come to Jesus are developing a scenario from the Law of Moses, known as Levirate marriage.


Now the first thing to be aware of is that the Sadducees were a Jewish sect at the time of Jesus who rejected any notion that there is a resurrection.


They were out to disprove and ridicule the notion of resurrection.


In that sense they were very different from the Pharisees, despite being lumped together as opponents of Jesus’ ministry and mission.


The Pharisees did accept the promise of resurrection, albeit they did not see it as embodied in Jesus Christ.


It’s like that today.


There are people who, like the Sadducees, think that life after death is not a thing.


Our existence on this earth is all there is, they say, there is no hope of heaven and so we live our lives ethically and well, but that’s about it.


Now that is a standpoint or worldview that can itself be challenged. But we don’t have time for that just now.


Similarly, like the Pharisees, there are people today who have a belief that ‘there must be something more’ and a vague notion of an afterlife, but that belief is rather undefined.


That is close to, but not the same as, the Christian hope of resurrection.


The Christian hope of resurrection is not a generalised hope that after I die something will happen or that, somehow, I’ll meet up with deceased relatives and friends, but it is a hope embodied in the person and resurrected body of Jesus Christ.


When Job says, in our first reading, ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ he is instinctively identifying what Christian theology holds, that if we are raised from the dead then there is a redeemer who makes that happen.


It’s much like salvation needing a Saviour: resurrection and salvation are not unspecific, generalised concepts, they are real, embodied experiences and utterly dependent on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


St Paul, himself brought up and trained as a Pharisee, so hitherto comfortable with a generalised resurrection, came to see this because of his faith in the actual bodily resurrection of Christ, who he encountered on the road to Damascus, and mused: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’. (1 Corinthians 15.17).


The passage that quote comes from, chapter fifteen of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, is like an extended meditation on this morning’s gospel reading.


It really addresses the Big Question about what happens to us when we die.


It’s interesting the Sadducees chose marriage as the scenario to test out Jesus’ teaching on resurrection.


Marriage in the Bible is not just about husband and wife, a man and a woman, though it is profoundly about a man and a woman too.


Marriage is also an emblem, a sign, of God’s relationship with his people and the fidelity of that relationship: we see that explored in the book of the prophet Hosea.


Marriage and consummation, is also a sign of the union of Christ, the bridegroom, with his bride, the Church: that is powerfully explored in the book of Revelation which speaks of the marriage banquet of the Lamb.


It is inclusive, in the sense that in the life of husband and wife, marriage aspires to reflect and echo to everyone, married or not, the fidelity of God to Israel and Christ to the Church.


Marriage is a Biblical image because all the while God remains faithful even when we err and stray.


So here’s the absurd, syllogistic, scenario again: a woman marries seven brothers in turn because one after another dies.


The next step of the scenario assumes that marriage endures in the resurrection.


Hence the question: when they have all died who will she be married to?


The Sadducees were taking the mickey really by asking this question.


Jesus responds clearly.


Marriage is something that exists on earth as a sign of fidelity and the fruitful coming together of two different, but complimentary, persons.


In the resurrection, when the redeemed are raised from the dead, then marriage is not the primary relationship or purpose they have, and nor is biological relationship or friendship.


That may be a source of sorrow for some to contemplate, and perhaps a source of relief to others.


So back to the Big Question and Jesus’ answer.


In the resurrection, the defining relationship is with the Living God, just as was the case with the Biblical patriarchs: God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.


So, Message One to take away from this Gospel: those who have died are not dead to God.


You are not, and never will be, dead to God, for in baptism you have died with Christ and been raised to life in him.


Jesus points out that the Sadducees have made a category error: they’re talking and thinking in earthbound ways and not the ways of the resurrection.


Belief in the Resurrection means we cannot look at ourselves, human destiny or the world in the same way again.


Let us, of course, nurture and cherish now all the relationships we have in this life; siblings, spouses, friends knowing that the relating of heaven is very much more.


Message Two to take away today is that life in the resurrection is a total transformation of life as we know it or can conceive of it; it is life lived in all its abundance and fullness, without the inhibitors of human neediness, wilfulness, infidelity or sin. For Christ will be everything and in everything.


‘[For] he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

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