11/10/19 – GOD BOX by Samantha Crossley+

Proper 27, C, 2019

Job 19:23-27a
Luke 20:27-38

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger. (Book of Common Prayer, BCP)

This paraphrase of Job’s lament comes from the funeral liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Out of death, life. Resurrection, the resurrection of Christ, our own hope of resurrection is a cornerstone of our faith.

Jesus was days away from The Temple. From Pilate. From Gethsemane. From the cross.

The Sadducees, a conservative Jewish sect, contemporaries of the Pharisees and the Essenes, rejected the authority of oral tradition. They believed only in the written Torah, the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Hebrew scriptures. The concept of resurrection does not appear anywhere in those 5 books. True to their own faith, the Sadducees rejected the notion of the resurrection and of angels. The pentateuch does, however, have rather a lot to say about levirate marriage – the system presumed in today’s Gospel lesson.

Levirate marriage. The word comes from the Latin, levir – brother-in-law. Prior to belief in resurrection, the Israelites believed that a person lived on in their descendants and in their descendant’s memory. Hence if a man died without children, his brother was obligated to take his wife and have children by her, thus ensuring that the brother would “live on”. By this system, our poor, nameless, barren serial widow would have worked her married way through 7 dutiful brothers in turn.

Whose wife will she be in the resurrection – for 7 have married her?
The sadducees had zero interest in the fate of their fictional widow. They sought by their question to expose the ridiculous notion of the resurrection, the utterly unworkable impracticality of it.

Guess what. God’s not big into practical.

If the pharisees had asked a question designed to trip him up,Jesus would have answered with a snappy unanswerable comeback question. He knew the Sadducees mocked him with their question, but this time, with the Sadducees, He answered in all seriousness, meeting them where they were. Your faith comes from the written Torah? Look at Exodus the story of the burning bush. God appeared from a burning bush and said to Moses. ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ I am. Not I was back then when they were alive. I AM.

We, like the Sadducees, have a habit of trying to put limits on God; trying to put God in a box of our own understanding. We remake God in our image, create Earth in Heaven as some sort of endless replay of all the good bits of life here. No, says Jesus. You don’t get it. The resurrection is not just an extension of life here except with wings and a harp. It is something different. Something other.

Now, resurrection is a hard pill to swallow for many. For some a notion at once so mysterious and so mystical holds no sway if it cannot be touched, tasted, seen, verified, proven and reproduced. If it makes you feel better, several physicists are actually working on the physics of immortality. Dr. Frank Tipler, a quantum mathematical physicist from Tulane postulates that in the very last moments of cosmic history matter will transcend its own destruction by an implosion of creative power, basing his theory on the currently accepted notion of a collapsing universe. “John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist and Anglican priest believes also that physical resurrection is “a perfectly coherent hope,” in which our souls function along the lines of DNA, carrying the unique pattern of each one of us inside our bodies and when we die, being used by God to recreate new bodies in any future world of God’s choosing”. (Sunday, November 11, 2013: “27 Weddings and 8 Funerals” Rev. Dr. Joanna Seibert)

Not convinced? That’s ok. Because the resurrection isn’t about what you believe, or I believe, or the Church believes – the Nicene Creed notwithstanding. It is rather about God’s belief in us. About Jesus’s willingness to journey to the cross and beyond and back. About, as one priest writes, “God’s investment in the creation, the incarnation, the essential goodness of matter, bodies, flesh. Anyone who is ever part of God’s life never stops being part of it. Even if it was for less than a moment, they still belong to God forever.” (Sunday, November 11, 2013: “27 Weddings and 8 Funerals” Rev. Dr. Joanna Seibert)

Theologian Paul Tillich suggested that death isn’t a moment, but a process we are living every day fulfilled finally in one moment. If so, consider what it means for us to be progressing in death while simultaneously progressing in life. “Just as physical death is the culmination of the slow dying that is life lived, is the resurrection of the body also the culmination of the slow living that is death dying away?” (Shannon Schaefer)

Still don’t understand resurrection? Me either. It won’t fit in our God box. We don’t have to understand it. We experience it – see it, in miniature, all the time, every day. When you see that seedling bravely peeking through the leaf litter and snow you’re walking through. When you see an addict, with the help of community, NOT take that next drink. When you learn the stories of your elders. When you shake the hand of a veteran who struggles to find his or her place in a world that changed with the agreement to risk life for the protection of hearth and home. When you walk with the grieving. When you stand with the vulnerable; when you dare to BE vulnerable. When you smile and meet the eyes of a stranger, and the eyes of Christ smile back at you.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger. (BCP)