Question about the resurrection
27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.”
34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”
Thoughts on the passage:
If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), can God create a rock so heavy that God cannot lift it? This is the kind of question that is fascinating to philosophers but generally uninteresting to the average follower of Christ. In fact, most often a question like this is raised by people who believe in God but are not sure about God’s omnipotence or more likely by someone who does not believe in God at all.
We see a similar question raised in our Gospel lesson today. People come up and ask Jesus what would happen to a woman who was married to multiple brothers over the course of her life. After the resurrection, whose wife would she be? From the perspective of someone who practiced Levitical marriage, where a brother was obligated to marry the widow of his brother, this could be a good question. It would also be a good question for someone who is trying to understand what the resurrection would be like. Instead, it is being asked by someone who does not even believe in the resurrection. The Sadducees are not trying to learn; they are trying to highlight how silly this idea of resurrection is.
What Jesus does in his answer is to agree with them, except not in the way they might have expected or wanted. He does not say there is no resurrection. Instead, he agrees that the situation they describe is silly, not because the idea of resurrection is silly, but because the idea that life after death is the same as life before death is silly. The problem is not with the idea of resurrection, but with our ability to understand it.
Our understanding of things is limited to our experiences and our experiences of the world. It is the limit of language for sure, and probably our brains as well, that we can only think of things in terms of what we already know. Imagine trying to describe a new color to someone, the only way you could do it would be by referencing colors you already knew like bluish-green or yellowish-orange or objects you have seen, the same color as a ripe tomato, the same shade of blue as the sky right before dawn. There is really no other way to talk about things except using the words and experiences we already have.
When we talk about resurrection and the after-life we run into the same problem. Our only way to understand it is to think in terms of what we know. When we talk about Heaven we often use images from earth, like streets of gold and pearly gates. When we imagine what life would be like we can only imagine it like this life, where things like relationships and marriages are part of how we define ourselves. It is impossible to get past these limitations.
What Jesus does is challenge us to do that anyway. He reminds us that the next life is going to be nothing like this. Instead we have to trust that this next age is going to be something even more amazing than what we know now. What it looks like is a mystery, after all, as Paul reminds us, we see now in the mirror dimly. It is not our place to get hung up on the details but instead to do the more important thing, believe that something better is possible.
Jesus pushes back on the ridiculous question of the Sadducees because it is a distraction. What is important is not who will be married to whom in the next life, but that we worship a God of life and not death. To God, people do not die but instead move onto to something greater. The God of Abraham is the God of Moses and is also the God of us. Abraham is alive to God, Moses is alive to God, and through Christ we also have new life.
On All Saints Sunday we remember those people who are still alive to God and through the ceremonies we hope to make them alive to us as well. We say their names, we look at their pictures, and we remember. When we light a candle we do not do it because that light reminds us that their light is still present in our lives. The light we use is the light of Christ which is what gives us all new life.
Our ways of holding on are flickering and fleeting like the candles we light, but they are just reminders of something greater. Those of us in this life can never really understand what is next. On All Saints Sunday we remember those who have died and we remember that they are still alive, not just in our memories but really alive in Christ. We do not have to understand it, but we can believe in it because we worship a God of resurrection and new life.
Questions to Ponder:
When you think of the resurrection and new life, what images come to mind?
When is a time you have experience the presence of someone who has died?
God of the living, help us to have faith in the new life that you offer to all who believe. Help us to trust in that which we cannot see and to believe in that which we do not fully understand. We remember all of those saints in our life who have died and gone to be with you. Bless us who remain here and give us your peace that we might know of your grace that is offered in the resurrection. Amen