First Reading: Job 19:23-27a 23“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! 25For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27awhom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 1As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 13But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.
Gospel: Luke 20:27-38 27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to [Jesus] 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, 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. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And 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. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel has a political group approaching Jesus with an attempt to trap him. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, so they brought to Jesus an almost unbelievable scenario based in levirate marriage law. Ideally, such laws can protect widows in a patriarchal society, but realistically, that doesn’t always happen. Levirate law is not based on love, but on economics, so this story is often dismissed as not pertaining to real love anyway…
However, that unlikely scenario does have a point. My parents had a good marriage, but my mother died when I was fourteen. A year after I married in my early twenties, my father married someone else. That, too, was a good marriage, and when my father’s dementia some years later necessitated his living in a locked ward of a nursing home, she stayed by his side, visiting him there nearly every day until he died some years later. So it’s backwards, but whose husband is he in the resurrection?
I can’t be the only one who might wonder…
Jesus’ answer isn’t very helpful, in my opinion, because it doesn’t address the strong emotional ties that husbands and wives might have with one another (nor the utter loathing that develops in others who might actually breathe a sigh of relief when the one who has become hateful finally dies).
Jesus’ words aren’t about the romance of love, but they’re not about the economics of levirate marriage, either. What Jesus is really saying here is that in the resurrection, you don’t need to worry any longer, whether this one or that one is right for you. You don’t have to check off any boxes that society seems to think you need for fulfillment in this life.
On the other hand, Jesus is telling us not to discount the resurrection. He promises that God is the God of the living, and refers to people who had died generations earlier. He recalls Moses’ reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, insisting this means those who had died long ago are alive… He doesn’t want us to despair, to believe that what we experience here is all there is.
A generation or so ago, Peggy Lee performed a poignant song of loss and disappointments, asking, “Is that all there is?” The first time I heard it, I hated it. I thought it was epitome of pessimism—and a disbelief in the resurrection. When I first heard it, I hadn’t realized there was anyone who didn’t believe in the resurrection. Then, when I looked up the lyrics in preparation for today, wanting to refresh in my mind what bothered me so much about it, I got to the end and there was a mistake. The lyrics, according to recordings I also referenced, were supposed to say that when she reached the end of life and took her last breath, she’d still question, “Is that all there is?” In a few moments, I’ll tell you what the mistake was…
In my naivety, as I listened to the broadcasts of the song as a very young person, I heard a lack of faith, a pessimism that I feared would drive people to despair. At that point I could not fathom the hope inside the incentive to keep dancing and have a ball, because I was stuck on the “if” part of the sentence. “If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing…”
Today, I realize that there is an importance to keeping on, even when you DO believe that’s all there is, because that ISN’T all there is.
God does not create us to be focused on ourselves, and on how to earn a special place in the resurrection, with all those we love who have gone before us. God creates us as part of something greater than the individualism that is so exalted in society. It’s not all about me. It’s not all about marriage. It’s all about something greater (pointing upward). It’s all about something greater (pointing outward).
Our first reading this morning included the promise of knowing we have a redeemer to vouch for us, to grant us placement in the resurrection, so we don’t have to worry about purchasing such space on our own, with either dollars or deeds of good work.
The Gospel reading has been the basis for most of this message, so I won’t go further on that here.
I do, however, want to lift something too from the second reading from 1 Thessalonians, particularly in today’s political climate. I referred to the Sadducees as a political party. Today’s political parties seem focused on making us anxious, on alarming us as to the state of the country, and the state of the world. The writing to the Thessalonians seems an attempt to bring a calming influence to the people who are becoming overly excited and dismayed by the rantings of those who strive to alarm them.
Yes, terrible things may happen, in our politics, in our personal lives, or anywhere. Yes, we may be dismayed by things over which we seem to have no control. Yet, we are called to proclaim the good news of God’s grace in this place and time. We are called to uplift God’s promise.
The error made in the lyrics printed of Peggy Lee’s song resulted in a promise that jolted me. Printed was this, “when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my first breath, I'll be saying to myself…” (emphasis added).
Taking one’s first breath in the resurrection is much more promising than focusing on the last one here! There, we can dance even better than we can here. There we can celebrate with no more pessimism. There we can gather with the God of the living, forever and ever. Was it an intentional error by someone who craved more promise than the piece actually has? I can’t say one way or the other about the error, but I can promise resurrection in Jesus’ name. Amen