God of the Living
I wrestled with this text this week. We could have celebrated All Saints Day last week but it was Halloween and since the official day is November 1st I thought it wasn’t quiet right. I could have picked one of the lectionary texts from the All Saints group but I didn’t, something told me to head to this section of scripture in Luke. I made the decision. I committed and as I dove into it I thought I would have to commit myself. To preach this text feels a little funny because we came here to remember those who have gone before us; our loved ones, our fathers, our mothers, our spouses. We come here to remember but now I have to preach about this insane question about marriage in heaven? Yet as I dove in I realized the power of this discussion between a Sadducee and Jesus. There is a lot of hope and joy in Jesus’ response and promise but it takes a while to get there.
I’m going to walk through a large chunk of history and I have given you these words up on the screen (the picture above) to help guide you through this case and to help you see a little about what I am talking about. I hope they help.
In the 20th chapter of Luke Jesus is asked some questions to trap him in order that the religious rulers can turn him over to the proper authorities. They want to get rid of him because he rode in on a donkey with palms waving and came into the Temple of Jerusalem and kicked out all the money changers. Now he was teaching to the people of Jerusalem and the religious leaders were getting very nervous. They sent teams of them to try and trap him with questions about his authority and paying taxes. Jesus can see through these and astounds everyone there with his answers.
Then you get a Sadducee who comes up for his turn. Now a little explanation about who Sadducees were. They were religious leaders of the time, similar but opposite of the Pharisees. the easiest way to think about it is that the Sadducees were like a different denomination from the Pharisees. They believed in the same God but they came at it in different ways. The main difference between these two was their belief in the scripture. Sadducees believed only what was in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. That was it. Pharisees believed in updating the written Torah with some of the oral or modern traditions. They wanted to include some of the prophetic writings that were being written down and these new writings called the Psalms. So one of their differences was where their scriptural authority came from.
Another key difference is the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. How do we know this? Well Luke tells us in verse 27. “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.” Because these Sadducees only believed what was in the Torah, which has no direct scripture on the resurrection, they didn’t believe in the resurrection. Pharisees on the other hand did believe in the resurrection because of the Prophetic book Daniel. In Daniel 12 there is a reference to the resurrection and because of the Pharisees inclusion of this prophetic book they believed in the event described by Daniel, where he says “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
What is funny is a Sadducee comes up and asks Jesus a question about the resurrection, something he did not believe in. This tells Jesus, and us, right off that the Sadducee is only looking to prove how dumb Jesus is and to embarrass him in front of everyone. It is kind of like asking the question, “Can God make a rock so big that he cannot pick it up?” This is simply and purely a trap. The Sadducee asks, “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
This idea comes from Deuteronomy 25 and Genesis 38. If a husband dies and leaves a wife, it is the brother-in-laws duty to marry her and produce offspring and take care of her. If not, as a woman back in that time, she would be an outcast in society and would be pushed out into the fringes to take care of herself, which back then would be almost impossible. As the Sadducee asks this question he also gives Jesus the parameters of the question. The section of the Law that is quoted is from the Torah only. For the answer Jesus decides to play the Sadducees game and stay within the Torah as well but in his answer he sides with the Pharisees in their belief of the resurrection.
But to understand Jesus’ answer we have to reach back to another popular thought or belief that was discussed back in Jesus’ time. There was an Ancient thought on angels and what they are like in heaven. There were many Jews who believed that when people died and are resurrected they acquire the eternal nature of angels. This theology comes from the book of 1 Enoch. It is not in our Bibles and it isn’t even in that extra stuff in the Catholic Bible called the Apocrypha. Actually there is only one denomination out there that has it in their official canon; they are the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which derived from the Ethiopian Jews who also saw Enoch as a holy book. Enoch is actually quoted in our Bible, in Jude 1:14-15, but that is all our Bible mentions of it. In this book it explains that God did not give angels wives because they are eternal and did not need to procreate. Because they live for eternity they don’t need to create more angels because if they did God would have a population crisis going on.
With this in mind, if we then believe humans, at our resurrection, put on the eternal nature of angels then we become eternal ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we turn into cubby babies with bows and arrows with little wings. We don’t turn into angels, but we do put on their eternal nature. What this means is that we put on eternity. We move from mortal lives to eternal lives. We believe that when we die we, the believers, move into an eternal relationship with God. At a funeral I usually quote from Romans 8, “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our perishable bodies put on imperishability. In death our mortal bodies put on immortality. This is why Jesus answers the Sadducee, “But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” With believers, those who are considered worthy enough to take part in the resurrection, they no longer can die so they are like the angels.
Because we are like angels in the resurrection, because we now are clothed in eternity, there is no use of the mortal constructs. There is no need for marriage anymore, which answers the Sadducees question. In death we are freed from life. This is where the hope and freedom come in to Jesus’ answer. Now some of us, learning that there is no marriage in heaven, might break out in a “Praise Jesus” moment, others might be disappointed. In eternity we don’t need the framework of marriage to work on loving others like Christ loves us, because we will be in the midst of Christ and know and understand this love first hand. We will know each other in heaven and we believe we will reunite with our loved ones who go before us. But the human and mortal systems here on earth pass away when we do. Death is the end of some things but not everything.
Think about the woman in the question the Sadducee asks. She is only seen as property. What do we do with this woman? Everyone she marries dies and the next brother in line willing takes her on, even though I am sure by time the 5th or 6th one says I do, they know they are signing their death sentence. She, like most women back then, see themselves as only property. They are a commodity that can be bartered and sold for the sake of the men in their lives. If you are this woman how much hope do you find knowing that Jesus says that earthly bondage doesn’t not exist in heaven. In heaven, in the resurrection, you are free because you are a child of God.
The God we worship is not a God of the dead. He is not a God of those who have those who have lived long ago but a God of those who continue to live. God is not a God of the dead but a God of the living. God is one who looks at us, his mortal creation, and allows us to put on immortality. Jesus throughout his ministry makes it known that there is great hope and freedom in the God of the living. In the age to come we are seen as equals to one another. We are made whole in the resurrection. All of the sickness that muddles up our lives is gone. The blind will see. The lame will walk. Women won’t be property. Slaves will no longer have an earthly master. We will be free. Free from all the junk that holds us down and bogs down our earthly lives.
Today, as we celebrate All Saints day, we remember those who have gone before us. We celebrate that they are made whole in their resurrection. We celebrate the foretaste of this heavenly banquet they are already feasting on. Because they have gone before us and we can trust Jesus when he says, “they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” we have great hope today. We can bask in this freedom God offers us all. We can have assurance in the future because as we will sing after communion, we are “standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord, overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword, standing on the promises of God.”
And all God’s children said…Amen.