Throughout this entire campaign our man has been all too ready to make his case about behavior and character, but he has been what you might call notoriously light on policy. Some Sadducees realize this state of affairs and they decide to try to corner the guy: to get an answer out of him on a hotly debated, and really very important matter of policy. The Sadducees do not want to see a miracle. They are not interested in a healing, and they don’t even want to argue about the Sabbath. They are not going to be deterred by a clever put-down (“Woe to you who are laughing now!”). And they are not going to be satisfied with easy moralizing (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”) A compliant press is taken in by these theatrics, but not the Sadducees: People! Jesus was not the first person to utter the Golden Rule! Jews were already teaching their children to be nice - had been for centuries! And in time, Muslims would do the same… along with just about every religion you can find!
But none of this was on the minds of the Sadducees. They were looking for a substantial policy discussion, and a commitment to a firm position from Jesus. They wanted to know where he stood. They did not want to see a leper healed, nor were they interested in what this rabbi could do with some loaves and a few fish; they could care less if he turned water into wine. No, these were serious men with serious questions, and they expected Jesus to treat the questions seriously too. They would not be satisfied by the optics that so impressed the masses. This was a question of life and death. This was about resurrection!
Ask any Sunday School child about resurrection and chances are that the bold ones will tell you that Jesus was raised from the dead – and that’s where resurrection begins and ends. And that answer will be right, as far as it goes. But as an answer, it will also be severely attenuated, for that’s not all that Jesus taught, and it’s not all that the church is supposed to believe, even if we are a little uncertain about the details. Do not be confused by the way the discussion is presented in Luke’s Gospel. Do not be distracted by all the talk of wives and marriage. The Sadducees have not asked Jesus a question about marriage, or inheritance rights, or any other such thing. They have asked him about one very important thing: about resurrection – because they don’t believe in it. The Sadducees believe that, as the saying went when I was younger, life’s a bit difficult, and then you die. Period. End of discussion.
But other Jews believed that God made us for a life that extended beyond the grave – and that’s what the Sadducees are asking Jesus about. This is a big policy question, and the Sadducees have asked it in a way that they suspect Jesus cannot wriggle out of a real answer.
Jesus does not wriggle! “In the resurrection [they] 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.” This question of resurrection was an open question when Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees all those centuries ago. Since it was a question about what happens after death, it was naturally difficult to back up one’s position with proof, other than the Scriptures (which is precisely what Jesus does) since no one had yet seen anything of resurrection life.
Not that we often stop to think about it much, but you might say that there is confusion, and maybe even disagreement, about resurrection in our own day too. Many of us who call ourselves Christians are satisfied with the Sunday School answer: resurrection is what happened to Jesus. But as policy statements go, this is an inadequate one, since it fails to take seriously the Sadducees question, which I’ll appropriate and rephrase for my own purposes: But what about us? What happens to us after we are dead? Will we be resurrected too? This is a serious policy question. And it tends to shift the discussion, for in order to address this question, you have to decide that God has not called us to gather as a church just to learn to be nice to one another – although we should learn that too. We are also here to learn about who we are, and what kind of life has been given to us.
We are here to learn that our lives were fashioned by God’s own hand, that he made us and knows us, down to the number of hairs on our heads. We are here to learn that God guides us, challenges us, protects us, and loves us in the turbulent reality of the world we live in. We are here to learn that the life God gave us in this world is heading inevitably toward death, and that our sometimes beautiful, always imperfect bodies come with strict limitations in this life – affected as they are by gravity, the environment, the passage of time, and the blows we inflict upon one another. And that the earth itself will take our bodies and return what came from the earth right back to the earth from whence it came.
But there is more to us – to our bodies and to our souls – than came from the earth. There are secrets to how we are made that we have not yet discovered, and that include both body and soul. These secrets, like the question of resurrection, used to be an open question, long ago, even when Jesus walked the earth. But then this man, this rabbi, this figure of controversy, was seized, restrained, flogged, nailed to a cross, and killed. And his body was placed in a tomb. But when that tomb was reopened just a few days later, the long-open question of resurrection was at last closed. Because Jesus was himself risen - body and soul. He was not there, he had arisen from death, and he is risen now, too! And if Jesus was telling the truth about his own resurrection, then he was telling the truth about ours, as well. He said: we “are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
There is so much I don’t know about the implications of this policy of resurrection. I don’t know, for instance, how it’s done. I don’t know what form our bodies will be in when we are resurrected, though I believe that they will be repaired, restored, and renewed to some state of perfection, thank God. I don’t know whether the process is fast or slow, or how time will even be measured beyond the grave. I don’t know how we will be held accountable for our sins, but I believe we will be. I don’t know if I will recognize you, or be recognizable to you, although I am counting on it, in the same way that I am counting on having my dogs with me in the life to come. I don’t know if we’ll be issued wings, but I have reason to believe that the wardrobe will be predominantly white. And I don’t know what the music sounds like, but I am certain there will be music. The list of what I don’t know about the life to come goes on and on.
But I know, I know, I know, that resurrection life awaits us beyond the grave. I know that we were made for more than the organic process of growth and decay. I know that when we return to dust, that is not the end of the story. How do I know this? I know it because I know that my Redeemer lives! I know that if we are children of the resurrection, as Jesus taught, then we will be resurrected, too! I know that the Word of God took on flesh in order to redeem flesh – that was the point of his coming! Yes, I know that my Redeemer lives! With Job, whose suffering far surpassed any trouble I have ever known, I know that he shall stand at the last day! And I know that after my skin – my flesh – has been destroyed, then in my flesh shall I see God, as a child of the resurrection!
Saint Luke doesn’t tell us how the Sadducees reacted to Jesus’ clear policy statement about resurrection. Were they satisfied to have found out what his position was, so they could rally against him when the time came? Were they disappointed that so charismatic a leader took a policy position so diametrically opposed to their own? We don’t know. But there is this wonderful good news that we do know, because Christ himself led the way through the grave and gate of death, and when he did, death itself was swallowed up in victory – for all who follow him.
There is so much I do not know, but thanks be to God I know that my redeemer and yours lives! And though worms destroy this body yet in my flesh shall I see God, as you shall, too. We will, I think, be dressed in white, very much like angels, and unmistakably children of the resurrection! That’s a policy I can live and die with! Thanks be to God!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
6 November 2016
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia