2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17
St. Luke 20.27-38
Can’t that Jesus get along with anybody? I mean, seriously. He’s always getting tangled up with some bunch of people or another. If it’s not the Temple Scribes, it’s the Pharisees, and if it’s not the Pharisees – well, in today’s Gospel narrative from St. Luke, it’s the Sadducees. So, who were these Sadducees anyway? Well . . . they were an order of priests in the Jerusalem Temple – but unlike some other priests – well, these guys were a bit more . . . well, a bit more worldly, a bit more intellectual – or at least they thought they were. And when the Sadducees talked about God, well, rather than get into all of that mystery and transcendence, they knew what carried the day: intellect, reason, logic – and not just any old reason and logic either – but the reason and logic of Greek philosophy, thank you very much.
If the Sadducees were around today, I suppose one might call their brand of religion . . . . more or less . . . . progressive, liberal. Things like the resurrection – well, that was really sort of a . . . quaint belief – and one most assuredly not based in the most up-to-date textual scholarship. No – the Sadducees argued – and evidence indicates that they loved to show off with their long-winded arguments, the complex reasoning of which quickly wore down their less sophisticated opponents – no, the Sadducees argued, there is no such thing as the resurrection of the body – rather we live on in our good deeds, we live on in our children, in our children’s children and so on. And besides, the foundational texts, the Torah, they supported this very argument. Take for instance what was called “Levirite marriage.” The word “levirate” comes from the Latin word, “levir,” meaning brother-in-law. According to the Sadducees, “eternal life” was all about living on in one’s heirs – actually, sons. So then, if a male died without a son, the widow was obligated to marry her next-in-line brother-in-law in order to give birth to a boy child that would then be considered the heir of the late first husband. And you heard in Luke’s narrative how the Sadducees then used this concept of marriage to show how messy, illogical, even adulterous this whole business of resurrection indeed would be – with one woman potentially married to all seven men. And God, of course, could be neither messy nor illogical.
Jesus, however, will have none of this . . . Oh you people – so concerned, so occupied with things only your poor and pathetic logic can entertain . . . and where does it all get you? In the logic of this age and your concerns about living on in male heirs – what’s that do to women? Women become objects of male pride, of male supremacy. Children as well become objects. But the resurrection – it does away with the need to produce a male heir, for, like the angels, you will be undying – and in heaven there will be no marrying or being given in marriage, no need for the marriage arrangements and legal entanglements of this world. As New Testament scholar Allen Culpepper (by no means a liberal or progressive) dares to assert in the New Interpreter’s Bible regarding relationships in heaven – and I quote – please note, these are not my words – I quote: “there will be no need to restrict love, intimacy, or companionship to a monogamous relationship.” (Whew . . . is it getting hot in here, or is it just me??)
But then, marriage is not really the main point of this narrative – the main point is, rather, resurrection. As it was with the Sadducees, this whole business of resurrection is . . . for many contemporary theologians – especially those of the last half of the 20th and the early years of the 21st centuries . . . an idea that doesn’t hold up to logic – doesn’t hold up to what Scripture has to say. Now – if the argument of these theologians concerns the immortality of the soul – well, that argument indeed does not stand-up to either Scripture or Tradition. The whole idea of a soul separate from a body – well, that’s an idea that has lurked around in one form or another for thousands of years (though not so much is Scripture and Tradition). It comes, rather, out of patterns of thought that view the body as – well – not all that impressive. So many things about the body get in the way of the “soul” – the body after all is subject to disease and decrepitude; to organ failure and flatulence; subject to hunger and thirst; subject to over-eating and hangovers; and the body is driven by harmful “desires” of every sort, with each sort of “desire” resulting in some dire consequence. The “soul,” by contrast, is driven by the desire for truth and beauty. But that sort of thought is, for the main part, foreign to the thought world of Scripture and the Christian tradition – rather our tradition and that of Scripture asserts the goodness of these God-created bodies of ours. Matter is good – God-created and, as we hear in Genesis 1, this God-created stuff is good, very good indeed. Yes – in this age – it’s all subject to problems – subject to forces of evil. And yes, Scripture talks about “flesh,” – “sarx” as it’s known in the Greek of the New Testament– but the condemnation of things fleshy, all things “sarxy” is, by-and-large, condemnation of the compulsions of the world, compulsions that lead to killing, brutality, hate, hierarchy, domination – the ways and compulsions of the world that lead human beings to treat one another as objects to be used – in order to produce heirs and for all sorts of other self-serving, ego-driven reasons.
Now, the tradition of which we are a part – that is the tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – our tradition accepts three creeds – three statements about what is and shall be the core of the church’s teaching – the core that is Catholic, that is to say, the core that shall be universal in time and place – the core that will not be subject to the whims of a particular culture or a particular age. Two of these three creeds, the Athanasian Creed (which we hardly ever use as part of a liturgy) and the Apostle’s Creed – used at baptism – both these creeds specifically state that we trust that the God most fully revealed in Jesus – brings about the resurrection of the BODY! And the Nicene Creed – used in celebrations of the Eucharist – asserts that God indeed brings about the resurrection of the dead. And what’s more dead than a decaying body? And if you want to protest that the Creeds are assertions that don’t hold up to contemporary logic – well, guess what? You’re right. But who said God must conform to our poor logic, even the logic of the 21st century? It seems rather arrogant for us to assert that the universe must be ordered according to how the human mind calculates time and space, according to what the human mind labels “real.”
The question that needs to be addressed at this point is: Whose bodies do get raised? Who is included in the resurrection? Oh and how here I want to giggle, to laugh – and more – to shout out with joy: Listen to Jesus!! To Jesus who says in the Gospel for this day – Consider Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – God IS their God, and to God all of these three are alive!!! And you know what?? These guys were, all of them, just like us, like you and me – characters capable of some very skanky, slimy behaviors, reeking at times of utter moral decrepitude. And, like us, they were at the same time sinners and saints – but not saints according to what they did and did not do, but saints solely because they trusted in God’s promises to them – promises, not so incidentally, that had to be repeated to them over and over and over and over, because, just like us, they couldn’t trust those promises on their own, couldn’t trust those promises by their own reason or strength. But still, how do we know that we too, like them, like Christ crucified – how do we, each of us, know that our bodies will be raised in resurrection? Well, we don’t “know” – not in the sense of knowing that water, when it gets to a certain temperature, will boil – but we “know” by a different sort of “knowing” – one called faith, one called trust – a faith and a trust that can only come from outside ourselves, a faith and a trust that we cannot dredge up from inside of ourselves – a faith and trust that can only come through hearing the Promise. As Paul says, “Faith comes through hearing” – through hearing the Promise over and over and over – a faith and trust in the Promise nurtured and strengthened in the Holy Communion, the very Body and Blood of the Christ whose forgiveness of his murderers is the proclamation that God is a peace with us as well. But how do each one of you – you in particular – how can you know that you shall be raised, and with a body, a glorified body like that of the Risen Christ, a body that gets to eat and to drink, presumably without gaining weight or becoming a falling-down drunk – how do you know that yours IS the resurrection of the body? Because it was promised to you in Holy Baptism, to each of you – and by name – and in God’s name. So here – this I believe, this I have staked my very life upon – this I trust – though a gift to me and not my own conviction – this I believe, this – and my most fervent prayer for each of you is that you believe it, trust it as well – from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, this I believe: “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Irrevocable. That means what God has promised to you by name, you cannot screw up!! And each and every one of you – and I as well – we shall all see God – in our bodies God created good. Very good. Indeed.
Oh – and because “whore reason” – as Martin Luther called it – because “whore reason” will try to take the Promise away from you and constantly throughout the week – do come back next week and receive it again, week after week, again and again and again . . . . In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.