The Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost: November 10, 2019
The situation of today’s Gospel is an ongoing testing by some of the religious authorities as to Jesus’ theology and his orthodoxy. Where have we heard that before? In this case we are speaking of the Sadducees whose authority was from Scripture to be sure, but limited to the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
They think they’ve got him! With a tricky question, the Sadducees think they’ve caught Jesus in a conundrum out of which he cannot argue and will thereby uphold their theological position that there is no resurrection from the dead. It raises the question, does it not, of whether life can arise from death?
So by using the example of the levirate marriage practices of the day, where a man would be obligated to marry his brother’s widow, the Sadducees seek to uphold the position that the next life is nothing more than a continuation of this one and needs human propagation so that it doesn’t die out. Jesus’ response calls this perspective into question.
To be sure, resurrection is an absurd notion. It is not mere resuscitation or reanimation. One of my New Testament professors at Virginia Seminary, Doctor Reginald Fuller, was known to say that, “Resurrection signals the active work of a divine sovereign to be bring about a complete psychosomatic transformation of the human body.” We’re not even talking about immortality of the soul here. Resurrection as understood in the Christian context is an entire new creation, a whole new thing, “resurrection of the body,” as we hear from the Creeds.
Jesus shows his authority by interpreting the Mosaic law, even using an example from the Pentateuch to challenge the notions of the Sadducees. He is showing forth his faith and confidence in the life-giving power of God whom he is proclaiming. He reached into the tradition and gave a bold new perspective, a whole new way of understanding what God is about. It leads to the awareness that the afterlife is different from life on earth, because the world we know is not all there is.
Isn’t that good news! The reality you I can see is not the only reality there is. I remember a moment when I was a boy that brought this home to me in an unexpected way. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s when the threat of nuclear annihilation of the planet was ever-present. I recall having air raid drills when we would crawl under our desks or go into the hallway to place our hands behind our necks in a crouched position, as if that really would have protected us. One day I was watching something on TV about nuclear threats and the commentator said that in the vent of an attack, all would be wiped out except some populations of insects, especially cockroaches. This very much unsettled this 8 year-old boy, and I went to my dad who was working in the garden and told him what I had heard. I’ve never forgotten his response. “I understand why this might upset you, but never forget that God came to us as a person, not an insect. God gives life, not death.” Whoa!
Jesus is teaching not only the Sadducees, but us today that we are always a part of something, held in God’s love, that is much bigger than anything we can observe. In times like ours this can give us hope, for what we see is not all there is. The Nicene Creed calls us to believe in God, the creator of all that is, “seen and unseen.” Outside the Pentateuch, in the later teaching of Job we hear today, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.” That’s resurrection of the body! Those words also happen to be the opening anthem of the funeral liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.
A couple of weeks ago Bonnie and I trekked with some dear friends across parts of the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg and France. As we entered many beautiful churches along the way, some as old as the 12th and 13th centuries, I was reminded once again that you and I are here because of a great repository of faith from over the centuries. Through challenges of schisms, abuses of power, and yes even questionable theological teaching, the Church of God is still here, you at All Saints, Hampton being the local example.
As the three folks come forward for the Laying on of Hands, you join that great history of all who have gone before and all who will yet be a part of the Body of Christ. You participate in God’s great vision as we participate in the power of the Spirit to know and be known, to remember and be remembered, to lavish love and to receive love, to dine on Jesus in the fellowship of those who live in him. It is why we sing the hymns and pray the prayers.
The promise of resurrection is our gateway to hope and it is at the heart of the reason the Church exists. Jesus told the Sadducees and he says to us, “Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” As you go to sleep this night, perhaps you can rest from your labors secure in the knowledge that what we see is not all there is. Death is swallowed up in the victory of God’s love as found in Jesus. This is God’s Good News and it sets us free.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.