The Resurrection of the Dead

Every week on Tuesday evenings, our campus ministry meets here at the church, piles into cars, and makes our way to a parishioner’s house; those who have been around for a while will know that this is a change that I made this year in our ministry. Rather than having dinner and worship here at the church, I asked you all to volunteer to open up your homes and invite us in to sit around your tables; I was so pleased when my Fall calendar filled up so quickly, and if you want to host in the Spring let me know. Every week, after dinner, we eat desert and talk about scripture. This past week, as I was introducing the gospel passage that you just heard read by Deacon Kellie, I offered a bit of confession: “I’ve decided I’m not going to preach on this week’s gospel, and you are about to hear why” and we spent the next 15 minutes or so talking about this scripture and the details, and they ultimately convinced me that perhaps I was too hasty in not choosing it.

Our gospel passage today is, at its heart, a theological and political trap; there are many layers to this text. Here, Jesus is one week away from the cross and our gospel lesson today is an example of social and political issues entering into the temple as it all is about to crash together in our Lord’s passion. The Sadducees pose a question that is designed to peg Jesus on where he stands on the resurrection of the dead, based upon the legal code of levirate marriage. In this code, when a man dies but leaves his wife without a male heir, the younger brother was supposed to take her as his wife to provide children for her. The Sadducees pose this question in a dramatic and exaggerated way: seven brothers, seven deaths, and still no sons.

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect which notoriously didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, and if you want to know a handy way to remember this detail, how I learned it in Sunday School was, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they were sad, you see. So in their theological conviction, they set a trap for Jesus. “If the resurrection of the dead is a real thing – who would this woman be married to?” You can hear the smugness in the question; to them, is a great example of the impractical nature of a belief in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus responds that perhaps our worldly institutions matter less than we think, and that what is at the heart of our very existence is the ways in which our primary identity comes from our faith in God. Around that dinner table with our college students, I looked up from reading the gospel, and one of them said, “Well, I understand why you aren’t preaching that.”

But here I am preaching on this somewhat confusing gospel text, I guess that’s what happens when you sit around a table sharing pie and talking about the resurrection. The question I had coming into this text was, Is Jesus telling us that our relationships don’t matter? Is this another example of something we heard earlier in the year from Luke’s gospel, “let the dead bury their own dead”? But I don’t think that is what Jesus was trying to do here, instead, I believe, Jesus was turning this theological and political trap on its head. Because the question that the Sadducees were asking here wasn’t will our marriages carry into the afterlife, do our relationships matter? Their question was, if the resurrection is real, upon which of the brother’s security does this barren woman stand? Because at the time, marriage and children, outside of being important relationships, were mainly about security and protection, particularly for women.

And the Jesus here near the end of the gospel according to Luke is not Jesus meek and mild that we will soon shift to in the season of Christmas; no, rather, Jesus here turns this paradigm upon its head and says that in the light of the resurrection, this woman, this barren, seven-time widow can enter into the kingdom of God on her own merit. Not in spite of her barrenness or because her husband and her family followed the levirate marriage codes, but because she on her own is a child of the resurrection. The Sadducees came to Jesus with this question in hopes of tripping him up about how the world to come will be as it relates to this world, but he answers and offers that it is something else entirely.

Because God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living and to God all are alive; this is so hard to understand and to wrap our brains around, but what I offer today certainly isn’t a full explanation of what it means to “look for the resurrection of the dead” as we affirm in the Nicene Creed, but rather to highlight that what Jesus is conveying to these people, and to us, is that in our faith, our primary identity is not male or female, single or married, or even, republican or democrat, but rather that our sole identity rests in the hope and truth of the resurrection. That we all, in our faith and fear, are gathered together and find common ground in the reality that God is calling us to live a life shaped by the resurrection.

Over the course of my ministry so far, there has been one underpinning, underlying question that I have been asked no matter the circumstances of the person to whom I am talking. I’ve been asked it in a hospital room by a frail woman only a moment away from her death, I’ve been asked it at a bar over a beer by a someone in their mid-thirties, I’ve been asked it at a coffee shop with college students, and I’ve been asked it by unfairly burdened pre-teens at camp: “What if Becca—what if Mother Becca—what if I don’t have enough faith?”

What if I don’t have enough faith to secure my place in heaven or to trust that Jesus is the Son of God or if there will actually be a resurrection of the body? Whatever the person is holding in fear that they don’t have enough, that they haven’t done enough, that there isn’t grace to cover whatever gaps we see between ourselves and the divine, to them Jesus offers an invitation to rest in the security of the resurrected life. What the Sadducees were putting forward was an attempt to trick Jesus into answering a question many of us may have today. In essence, their question isn’t about marriage and death, but rather how will we be secure in the world to come?

If we were to pose a similar question today, perhaps we would ask Jesus, “In the resurrection which version of the iPhone will I have?” or “In the resurrection, where will I hang my diplomas from all my degrees?” or “In the resurrection, what kind of house will I have?” Whatever your own image of security and identity, take a moment and consider how deeply they pale in comparison to the identity that is found in the resurrection. As we look for the resurrection of the dead, we look toward the vision that Jesus casts here. The vision that says in the light of the resurrection, we are all children of God, and that God is calling us to a life continually shaped by that resurrection.

This weekend, your clergy and four deputies went to our Diocesan Convention, and one of the sessions ™was about the Nicene Creed. One of the lines about which there was conversation was “we look for the resurrection of the dead.” Someone commented in that session that they find this particularly meaningful and make a habit to look for little resurrections; to look for little resurrections all around us, to give hope, to give life, to give strength and courage to keep going. This, I think, is my hope for us all this week. That we go out and see little resurrections all around us, that we remember that in light of the resurrection of the dead, our identity rests in God alone and nothing in this world defines us more than “child of God.” This is my prayer, and may the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob protect and keep you; may the God of Rahab, the God of Tamar, and the God of Ruth bless and remain with you as you go out into the world seeking to live a life shaped by the hope of the resurrection.

A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY.

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