Sunday 32 • 6 Nov 2016

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2Thess. 2: 1-5,13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Rev. Chris Udy

Something had happened
on that Sunday morning
before the women who had loved
and supported Jesus
through the three years of his ministry
left Jerusalem in the early morning
and arrived at his tomb.
Something had already happened there.
No-one knows exactly what it was,
but when the women arrived,
the hole in the rock
where his body had been laid was empty.

Anyone who wants to explain
how the Christian movement began
has to make some sense of what happened
on that Sunday morning.

No-one seriously questions
whether Jesus existed as a man in history -
and almost everyone accepts
that he died in Jerusalem -
although there’s some debate about exactly when -
but it’s what happened after his death
that fuelled the Christian movement
and re-shaped the world.
Everything else about the life of Jesus -
his birth, his teaching,
the meaning of his death,
was re-told in the light
of what happened that Sunday -
and everything essential to Christian faith -
our understanding of God,
our concept of humanity,
our morals, our ethics, our mission and purpose
grows out of that moment
when the tomb that had contained his body
was somehow discovered empty.
Anyone who wants to explain
the Christian movement
has to confront that moment -
because resurrection is the light
that illuminates Christian belief.

We become part of the Christian community
by dying and rising with Christ in Baptism;
we meet to worship on Sunday
because we are people of the resurrection;
we read the stories of Jesus
because we know the way they end,
and we believe the choices we make in life
have implications for what will happen
beyond our death.

Not everybody shares that belief,
and not all of us understand it
in the same way.
Many good, compassionate and intelligent people
find any idea of resurrection impossible.
They look at death as final -
nothing beyond it but decomposition,
no memories, no meanings, no meetings -
and the only immortality they can believe in
is historic or genetic -
in monuments or in their children.

The Sadducees, who questioned Jesus
in our reading from Luke’s gospel for today
were apparently people like that.
We’re not exactly sure who they were
or what their role in society was,
but most people think
they were probably a kind of political party
just as the Pharisees were.
But the Sadducees were less religious than the Pharisees,
more influenced by Greek and Roman culture and ideas
and more much more trade and business oriented.
Luke says they didn’t believe in resurrection,
but they obviously knew the Law pretty well,
and the question they asked Jesus
was probably more than just
for the sake of an argument.

If they believed the only way
your influence and memory
could continue beyond death
was through children -
then they probably had some sympathy
with the idea of a man who died
without having children -
because, for them,
the signs of his life would simply disappear
and nothing would remain
to honour and perpetuate his memory.
They might even have thought
this law - part of the law of Moses -
could mean even God was saying
the only life beyond death was in the family.

‘Teacher’ - they said -
Moses wrote for us
that if a man’s brother dies,
leaving a wife but no children,
the man shall marry the widow
and raise up children for his brother.’
And then the Sadducees
suggested a little case study
that might prove their point.
‘There were seven brothers;’ they said,
‘the first married, and died childless;
then the second, and the third married her,
and so in the same way
all seven died without leaving children.
Finally the woman also died.
So, in the resurrection,
whose wife will the woman be -
all seven had married her?’

For the Sadducees - as for most of us -
the values and meanings of life
were also coloured by what was to come.
If there was no life beyond death
then truth was to be found
only in tangible things -
in bodies and buildings and belongings.
There’s some evidence
that they were very pragmatic people;
they didn’t believe in rewards or punishments
in the life to come -
so if you could get away with something in this life
it was pretty much OK.
They were wealthy people -
and fairly conservative -
so they were happy with the way things were
and they weren’t advocates for change.
But for Jesus it was obvious
that the way things were
wasn’t what God wanted.
Even though the Sadducees might be satisfied,
life for most other people
was less than perfect -
and Jesus was motivated by a vision
of something better to come.

So Jesus had a two-step response
to the question of the Sadducees.

First he said -
‘Those who belong to this age
marry and are given in marriage;
but those who are considered worthy
of a place in that age
and in the resurrection from the dead
neither marry
nor are given in marriage.
Indeed they cannot die anymore,
because they are like angels
and are children of God -
being children of the resurrection.’

Where the Sadducees seemed to think
of children as possessions,
born to carry their father’s name
and for their father’s pleasure,
Jesus described the children of the resurrection
as children of God -
no longer belonging to someone else,
but as free and as glorious as angels.

Jesus also rejected the Sadducees’ idea of marriage,
where a woman could be passed like a parcel
from one brother to another,
with no other purpose
than the production of children for their husbands.
Those who are worthy
of a place in the resurrection
‘neither marry nor are given in marriage’ he said -
and while that idea might seem a bit sad
to those among us who’ve been blessed
with wonderful partners,
maybe it means that in God’s future
everyone will then enjoy
the kind of love and trust and affection
we now associate with only the best
and deepest relationships;
that there’ll be no need
for the kind of exclusive commitment
we now make in promises of marriage.
Jesus believed in something better to come,
he had a vision of life without limits -
of relationships that were deeper and more enduring
than law or culture or ceremony could make them,
of human beings as more than bodies -
no longer possessions and belongings,
but full persons.

So Jesus continued
with the second part of his answer.
Since the Sadducees had, in a way,
appealed to Moses to support what they believed,
Jesus also spoke about Moses.
He said ‘the fact that the dead are raised
Moses himself showed,
in the story about the bush,
where he speaks of the Lord
as the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob.
So he is God,
not of the dead,
but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.’
God introduced himself to Moses
from the burning bush
by saying
‘I am the God of Abraham’.
God introduced himself to Moses by name -
Yahweh - which probably means something like -
‘I am’, or ‘I am who I am’ -
which makes God’s introduction to Moses
a kind of a play on God’s name.
‘I am - the God of Abraham,
and Isaac, and Jacob’
and in God’s introduction
God also uses other names -
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
personal names -
not descriptions of possessions or belongings,
not interchangeable family relationships either,
but unique persons, invaluable and irreplaceable.

So often death turns persons into statistics -
1209 Australians killed last year on Australian roads,
500,000 casualties in Iraq
since the US-led invasion in 2003,
15.5 million refugees around the world in 2015 - -
but in the vision of God’s future
that Jesus lived by
no-one is unnamed or insignificant,
and no-one gets lost in the numbers.
Resurrection declares God’s value and respect
for every human life -
and death does not remove us from existence
or from God’s purpose.

Whatever it was that happened
in that moment of resurrection
on the first Easter day
has transformed the way we value human life.
Jesus could easily have been forgotten
and lost in the statistics -
just a man,
just another religious and political protestor,
just one more Roman crucifixion -
but the resurrection revealed him
as he is in the eyes of God -
Jesus, child of God,
unique and invaluable.

In the light of his resurrection
we also discover who we are -
also known to God by name,
profoundly loved and irreplaceable,
and called to form relationships
and build community
and work for a world
where everyone is seen in resurrection light.
We are called to form relationships,
and community, and a world,
in which every life is honoured,
every person treasured,
and every child of God can taste
of life infused with eternal promise.