It’s not hard to tell that the church year is coming to an end. In fact, in a little more than three weeks, the season of Advent will start. The issues that have been placed before us in the last couple of weeks are about what comes next. Today, we focus on the resurrection. The emphasis on the reading which we heard from Luke this afternoon is not about how and when our age will end. It is about what our futures will be after this age passes away and the time of human life is ended.
At the time of this story from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem in the days before his crucifixion. The Sadducees were not really interested in the resurrection. In fact, they did not believe in the resurrection at all. The Sadducees only believed in the first five books of the Old Testament, and nowhere in these books was the idea of resurrection mentioned. Their real purpose was to attempt to compromise Jesus’ authority.
Under the Law of Moses as mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:56, a man whose brother died without children was required to marry his brother’s widow. The firstborn child of that union was to bear the name of the deceased brother so that the brother’s lineage would continue. This law also benefitted the widow because it gave her financial security for the future. Procreation was necessary then as it is now, but it will not be necessary in the new life in Christ because people will not be subject to death any more.
Jesus’ understanding of God’s will is superior to ours or his opponents. Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees affirms that there will be a resurrection where the new life will be much different from what we think it will be. For example, many of you are suffering from the health effects of old age. In the new life after the resurrection, there will be no more suffering or pain-only hope, peace, joy and health.
We tend to think that the new life will be like life is now, complete with marriage. We will recognize our loved ones, including our spouses who have gone before us, but there will be no marriage in heaven. Our relationships with people will be deeper and different from what they were on earth. No longer will people be held captive by sin, age or health problems. In the New Testament, immortality and resurrection become linked in a “now” and “future” relationship.
We can’t understand things we have not seen. We have to accept them by faith, just like we have to accept God’s Word by faith. Even the world’s greatest preachers have trouble understanding the Word of God. Billy Graham once had a struggle with the truth of God’s word, but one evening he knelt by a tree stump and declared to God that he would accept God’s Word by faith.
It’s sometimes hard for us to believe in the big things in life when we have so many little issues and struggles that we let take up lots of space in our lives. When we are obsessed with the little things in life, it’s not easy for us to step back and understand everlasting life. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. Some people imagine it as a beautiful place with endless good times. Others imagine it as a place where there will be no sickness, old age or pain. Our ability to imagine what heaven will be like is our way of expressing our faith that our loved ones are alive and well and are getting along with each other.
For example, C.S. Lewis, who wrote “The Chronicles of Narnia”, once told the story of a woman who was thrown into a dungeon. Her only light came from a barred window high above. She gave birth to a son, who had never seen the outside world. He couldn’t reach the window to see outside, so his mother told him about green fields and waves crashing on the shore-but he couldn’t imagine what she was describing. Eventually, she persuaded the guards to give her some paper and charcoal so she could draw pictures to show her son what the outside world was really like-but what the boy came to understand was that the outside world looked like black lines on a white piece of paper.
The reality keeps returning to us, and it is stark. We have to let go of today’s relationships and trust God to give new relationships. Otherwise, our ability to accept the good news of resurrection and life after deaths is limited. Our loved ones are buried in a cemetery. Their gravestones are in a line, and mark the names of our loved ones along with the dates of their births and deaths. We wonder where they are and what they are doing. At times like that, we can turn to the Scriptures for comfort, especially the passage we heard today.
Jesus does not tell us what lies ahead for us in heaven. He does say that heaven is not a continuation of what we know here on earth, so we don’t need earthly things such as marriage or prosperity. We are to continue being children of God here on earth so that we will be in his arms when we die. Those who are willing to give their lives to God now will find that God will be there for them when the journey of their earthly life is over. We are to love one another just as God loves us and share God’s love for people in a way that excludes no one. In effect, marital love is extended and perfected, so that what’s best about human beings in this life is made available in an even better way to all of us in the next life.
If God is our God, and we are his people, death is not the end of the story. It is the beginning. Someone once said that “today is the first day of the rest of your life” and that will be especially true on the day we die. When we die, the Lord will not abandon us. He will be there to greet us. To be absent in the body is to be present with the Lord. We have Christ’s promise of the reality of the resurrection through Christ’s own death and resurrection. Because he lives, we too shall live. Living without the doctrine of resurrection, or the hope it offers, cheapens this life.