November 10, 2019
Practice resurrection – J. Barry Vaughn – Nov. 10, 2019
As most of you know, my mother was an enormously important person in my life, and I think of her as a kind of force of nature. She was also widowed at a relatively young age. My father died in 1984 when mother was 57 years old.
For a while mother thought that she might re-marry. Now keep in mind that mother was well-educated; she had a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and had done some work toward a doctorate in education. She was accomplished; she was the first and for many years the only woman to serve as a principal in her school system. And she was intellectually curious, enjoyed traveling, and dabbled in painting and photography.
The problem was that she lived in rural Alabama and that limited the field of available single men in whom she might be interested.
One gentleman asked mother if she would like to have dinner with him, and she agreed. The day and time of dinner arrived, and he came to the door of her house holding a grocery bag. It contained the food that he expected her to prepare for dinner!
She had a handful of other dates, and finally told me that she no longer wanted to (and I quote) “wash any man’s damn socks!” I’m not sure she actually used that four-letter word, but it was certainly implied.
I think my mother would be sympathetic to the woman in today’s gospel reading who was married to seven men consecutively. The Saducees (who did not believe in life after death) facetiously asked Jesus whose husband she would be in the afterlife.
I think my mother would have pointed out to the Saducees that the woman in question had pretty much earned her heavenly reward because she had already experienced hell on earth by having to prepare meals for and wash the socks of those seven husbands.
Jesus, however, told the Saducees that marriage and reproduction are a feature of this world, not of the world to come. And by the way, he added, how can you deny the resurrection if God declares himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God is life, therefore if God has a relationship with these patriarchs, then they must be alive, too.
Or to put it another way, if we have a relationship with God, then we will live. The closer we come to God, who is the very source of life, then the more life we will experience.
The Saducees’ question was facetious, because unlike Jesus (and the Pharisees) the Saducees rejected the very idea of resurrection. However, their trick question gave Jesus the opportunity to make a profound statement about the nature of life after death.
The New Testament does not teach us to believe in the immortality of the soul; instead, it proclaims the resurrection of the body.
The immortality of the soul is a Greek idea. Plato and other Greek philosophers taught that the soul is an immortal substance and the body is its prison. At the time of death, the prison doors swing open, and the soul is free. The body decays, but the soul lives on.
Up until a couple of centuries before Jesus, Israel’s view of life after death had been fairly sketchy.. The psalmist wrote, “in death there is no remembrance of you [O God]; in Sheol [the place of the dead] who can give you praise?” (Ps. 6:5). However, during the time of the Maccabean revolt, about one hundred and fifty years before the time of Jesus, (165 BCE) many Jews started to believe that God would raise the righteous, body and soul, to new life after death.
The Pharisees believed this, and so did Jesus. The Sadducees wanted to trick Jesus and employed a reductio ad absurdum tactic to do so. If the dead are raised, they reasoned, then how can one decide to which brother woman will be married, if she has been married to all seven brothers in turn.?
The Sadducees’ view of life after death was a bit like that of Woody Allen, who reported that he had had a vision of eternity and that it was “just like this life, only longer.”
Jesus, on the other hand, categorically refuted the Sadducees’ (and Woody Allen’s) view that life after death is just like this life, only longer. Jesus tells us that the life to which God calls us beyond this life will be something entirely new and different. Two of the most fundamental features of this world are marriage and death. But Jesus tells us that both will be absent from the world of resurrection.
Life in this world depends on “marrying and giving in marriage,” or at least upon reproduction. Without the birth of new human beings to replace those who die, human life would quickly come to an end. ”
In her novel Children of Men, British author P.D. James explored the question of what would happen if humans lost the ability to reproduce and concluded that civilization would break down and chaos would reign as men and women realized that the era of human beings was over. However, Jesus envisioned a world beyond this one in which life depends not on human reproduction but on divine grace. It is peopled not by “children of men” but by “children of God… children of the resurrection.”
In the world to come, not only do marriage and reproduction disappear but so does death itself. God, Jesus says, “is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38).
Jesus’ vision of the world of the resurrection is not that it is a duplication of the patterns of this world transposed into an unending (and ultimately tedious) key. It is not a static world, a sort of museum in which the life we know before death is preserved, much like a prehistoric insect caught in a drop of amber.
“Life” is the key word in Jesus’ understanding of the world of resurrection. Jesus’ God is a God of life and living, and “all of them [that is, the righteous] are alive” in God. Whatever we believe about resurrection, whatever we believe about life after death, we must be clear about this: the life that we know on this side of the grave is only a pale reflection of life beyond the grave.
The romantic love that wives and husbands enjoy; the passion that unites two people in marriage, the intensity of parents’ love for their children – these are the most profound, even sacred, experiences that most humans enjoy.
To understand resurrection, begin with that intensity and multiply it to an infinite power. Then we begin to understand what Jesus was telling the Sadducees about resurrection. Or in Wendell Berry’s words:
. . .every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world…
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias…
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
[because] Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts…
(Excerpt from Wendell Berry’s “Manifest: The Mad Farmer Liberation
If we employ the Saducees’ arithmetic, the math of reason and common sense, then resurrection will not compute. But Jesus practiced a new math, the math of resurrection. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. God does not nicely calculate to which brother the woman in the Sadducees’ question will be married. God gives without measure and regards those whom we think of as dead to be fully alive. The God revealed in Christ practices resurrection and invites us to do the same.