Sermon, November 10: Gathering Darkness

The time change made a difference, didn’t it? Suddenly it’s darker, sooner. Suddenly it’s colder. And our reading of the gospel of Luke is coming to an end. Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament readings will begin to long for the coming of the Messiah and the New Testament will turn to understandings of Jesus as the Christ.

With All Saints’ Day just behind us, I found myself wondering about the hints and whispers that the Bible has actually left us about the Sadducee’s question. Are the ones we loved pursuing a life in some alternate dimension just past time and space that somehow follows the pattern of life as we live it? Or is there some other way of confronting the mystery that stays faithful to both our hopes and to our understandings?

That’s the question the Sadducees really asked, isn’t it? What’s it all about, they wanted to know. It’s one thing to sit around contemplating abstractions, they say, but look at what this belief does to the everyday practical reality of marriage. If you follow their logic, they reasoned, one barren woman might spend eternity with seven husbands!

Well. The situation the Sadducees cooked up about all of those husbands was a little far-fetched, cold to be sure, but not quite as unexpected as it might sound at first. In the book of Deuteronomy, marriage was a way to resolve practical issues, the way by which a man could ensure he had legitimate offspring to inherit his name and his property. It went like this: if a man died before he had children, his brother was obliged to marry his widow and produce a son in his dead brother’s name.[1] This would ensure that property was kept in the family and women were not left destitute in this world.

So the Sadducees’ argument was based on their assumption that life after time is a continuation of life as we know it now. Jesus’ understanding is that there is a radical disconnect in the continuum of being that starts in this life and goes on to the next. In other words, no institution here implies anything about any institution there – but here and there exist.

If you follow his reasoning a little further, Jesus made an amazing assumption for a man of his time a and that is that nothing outside ourselves is able to define us in God’s eyes. It was an extraordinary statement back then and it still is. Think about it. It is still true that when women marry, most still change their family names. Couples planning their wedding speak of their wedding day as “the most important in our lives.” Even today, marriage plays a huge role in defining who is blessed. But not so for Jesus. When the Sadducees posed their question about the barren widow’s afterlife, he responded by naming two different worlds: “this age” and “that age.” His point wasn’t a doctrine of marriage, but a reminder, as  Isaiah once said, that “our ways are not God’s ways.”

Our world has its rules – money talks, wealth deserves to rule, some killing is necessary, my home is my castle, small questions merit large battles. God’s world deals with the same factors, but God’s world has different assumptions and different conclusions. In God’s world, people aren’t defined by institutions of any kind – they are simply marked as God’s forever.

Jesus was a country preacher who responded to a question from the crowd. Years later, Paul would echo his thoughts in soaring words that we cherish and remember, words about the new life in heaven:

Lo, I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised, and we will be changed…[2]

All of this happens, Jesus suggested – not because human relationships don’t matter and certainly not because death isn’t real –  but because hope is the nature of who God is. And so it is that the great sweep of biblical stories have the same pattern. They say that, as tough as it might be to grasp in the sad times, God’s one promise – from the flight into Egypt to the journey to Jerusalem; even from Calvary to resurrection morning – God’s one promise is that devastation and death are not the end.    Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

[2] 1 Cor. 15: 51-2.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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