The Mystery and Promise of the Resurrection

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Pentecost 22 | 11.10.2019 | Luke 20:27-38

The Mystery and Promise of Resurrection

In Jesus’ time there were two dominant groups of Jewish leaders—the Pharisees and the Sadducees with whom he often experienced resistance. Today we see a run-in between Jesus and the Sadducees. What is particular about this group is that they were known to have not believed in resurrection.

Because of Jesus’ growing popularity and his critiques of power and authority, people in power, like the Sadducees – were constantly trying to trap Jesus with complicated questions that might embarrass or discredit him.

Our story today is an example of this.

The Sadducees approached Jesus and virtually said: “‘Teacher’…so we’ve been hearing all your talk about resurrection, and we have a question. When a man marries a woman, and the man eventually dies, and the woman gets remarried…we’re wondering, ‘In the resurrection…whose wife will the woman be’ (Luke 20:33); which man will be her spouse in heaven?”

For the Sadducees absurdity of resurrection and afterlife.

But, to be honest, the Sadducees’ motives notwithstanding, I actually think they have a really good question! Yeah, wait, Jesus… so who IS going to be her husband? What’s afterlife going to look like?

 Jesus’ response is beautifully…puzzling. It is beautiful because his response is filled with wonder and hope. It is puzzling because he doesn’t answer the questions with specifics – he never says to whom the woman will be married, in other words.

Rather, Jesus says something to the effect that marriage as they know it won’t apply in afterlife, in resurrection. He says something to the effect of ‘In this age’ it might matter, but “in that age” (v. 34-35), marriage as you know it doesn’t apply. In so doing, Jesus makes a distinction between worldly reality and heavenly reality, implying that it is problematic to try and understand resurrection through worldly categories. God’s future cannot be understood as an extension” of this life and its parameters.[1]

Now, Jesus’ response that marriage doesn’t really apply in the afterlife might trouble us at first. But it ought to be noted that in Jesus’ time, marriage usually wasn’t the romantic matrimony that we understand it to be today. Rather, marriage was simply a vehicle of procreation: to have kids. And Jesus’ point here, I think, is that those needs are unnecessary in the new life. Jesus wasn’t the most hallmark card romantic person! His point was that procreation is unnecessary in resurrection because there is no death.

To be sure, I don’t think his point was to say that we won’t have relationships in heaven, but rather, the main thrust of what Jesus is saying is that resurrection is not going to be life as we know it, and the Sadducees’ question was one where they were trying to understand resurrection in terms of life as they knew it.

To put it another way, when your life is as caterpillar, it’s not real possible to understand life as a butterfly.

So, if it is hard to, if now even possible, why are we even talking about resurrection? Well, for one thing, I think this text reminds us to talk about resurrection and afterlife with a lot of modesty.[2] We only have our own reality with which to try and understand something that transcends our reality. So, again, we should have some humility when it comes to talking about the specifics of afterlife.

Even Scripture is vague about resurrection. According to one scholar, there is NO “dominant perspective [on resurrection] in the Old Testament,” for instance.[3] In the New Testament, we get some imagery to describe resurrection, like Paul’s claim in Thessalonians that we will meet our loved ones in the clouds (1 Thess 4:17), or the Revelation imagery of God’s risen children being dressed in white robes (Rev 7:9), but those are not much more than emotional ways to capture the hope and beauty of afterlife than they are literal depictions of life after death.

And here in Luke we get a direct question to Jesus about one of the specifics of afterlife and Jesus basically says you can’t possibly understand. If anything, Jesus’ response here gives us more uncertainty about the specifics of resurrection reality than not.

So, about afterlife and resurrection, Christians ought to speak with uncertainty. But…I think we can also, despite uncertainty, think and speak of resurrection and afterlife with hope and peace. Uncertainty about the specifics need not mean we be worried, because make no mistake, Jesus’ response here also gives us affirmation and hope.

 For one, according to Jesus, there is life after death. We don’t know how that takes shape, but Jesus says God is God of the living, not the dead. Jesus does promise that there is another age (v. 35), so therefore he’s also promising that what we see now is not all we get. And based on what Jesus is saying here, our new life will be one not restricted to the limitations of this state.

And yes, Jesus does say, “in resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (20:35b), but Jesus “does not say we will not know those who have been dear to us, only that resurrection life will not be marked by the same features as this one.”[4] Remember, Jesus says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living, so we can have hope that the presence of our loved ones will also be living in resurrection (cf. 20:38).

That is what we are told That is what we can believe. What will resurrection look and feel like exactly? I don’t know. Who will be there? I don’t know. What will our relationships look like? I do not know. But know this…it’s good. Our God is not the God of the dead, “but of the living; for him all of them are alive” (20:38). And perhaps with the comfort of that promise of life after death, we can more fully live with comfort, joy, and generosity in our life before death. Amen.

     [1] Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 594.

     [2] David J. Lose, Questions About the Resurrection, workingpreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2859

     [3] Matt Skinner, Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Sermon Brainwave, Podcast #322, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=454.

     [4] Lose, Questions.

1 Comment

  1. Gwen Mortenson on November 12, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you, Paster Joe, for sharing Carrie’s phone # with me today. I was checking out my old church’s website further and found this sermon which also was something good you gave me today – the right message for me, thinking about death of our uncle and what comes next.
    Cordially,
    Gwen

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