From a personal ad in a Florida newspaper: “Recent widow who has just buried fourth husband looking for someone to round out a 6 unit plot. Dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, not a problem.”
What happens to us when we die?
For thousands of years people have been asking that same question. What happens to us when we die? During the time of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders were continually arguing over the answer to this question. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection of the dead and most of the Jewish people agreed with them based on their reading of Old Testament scripture.
But there was a group of Jews called the Sadducees who believed the soul and body perished together at death, never to be resurrected. And they had all kinds of arguments to prove there never could be a resurrection of the dead, and that the whole idea of a resurrection is absurd. The Sadducees’ arguments were very effective in that first century because those who believed in the resurrection believed that life after death was simply an extension of the good life of this age. When we get to heaven we can eat, drink, and be merry forever. The resurrection life was simply an extension of the good life.
The Sadducees knew the Old Testament law. In Deut. 25 it says that if a man dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go into her, and make her as his wife. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. In that Old Testament society it was all important for a man to have a son to carry on his name. So the main purpose of getting married and having wives was to produce sons to carry on the family name. If a man dies without having a son, then it is up to his brother to keep trying to produce a son by the widow, that could assume the dead man's name.
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection and who remembered this Old Testament law from Deut., came to Jesus with a question, and to ridicule him.
They wanted to have a good laugh at his after-life concepts. They did it very cleverly, they used a pious tactic, they started with the Bible, and they said: “Master, you know about that law from Moses we have in writing that is a man dies without children, his brother should marry her in order to get children for his dead brother. Did you get it?”
And Jesus said: “I got it.” And then they started their story about that woman who married a man, who died,
And then his first brother, who died,
And then his second brother, who died,
And then his third brother, who died.
And his fourth
And his fifth
And his sixth,
And they all died,
And then finally,
She too died, of exhaustion, I suppose.
And then after that story, they asked him triumphantly: “What is that woman going to do in the case of after-life, after her resurrection in the life to come? Live with seven husbands, she alone, how is she going to do a thing like that?”
The people around Jesus who had listened to the story tried to find a better place, not only to hear him, but even to see him answering that question. They were curious, they winked at each other. How was he going to tackle this one?
He tackled it in a very profound way. He did not say what might happen in the life to come. He said only what definitely will not happen over there. He said: “It will be over there not like over here. Nobody will be married. It is a life that transcends this life!” And our belief in the resurrection is exactly that: There is more to life than our life over here. He even explained why we will not be married. We will not be married because nobody dies over there, and you marry in this world only to survive in it even after your death.
We would like to think that in heaven we will be married to the same person we were married to in this life. Maybe we don’t like to think that. Maybe when we get to heaven we see ourselves married to Lady GaGa or Bradley Cooper. We all have our own personal perception of what heaven will be like. And most likely, that perception is an extension of what we have known and loved in this life. We hope that those persons and things we have loved in this life will be there in the resurrection life in the same way we have known them in this life.
This morning, Jesus teaches the Sadducees and us that – Yes, our relationships with God and with one another are eternal but they won’t be the same. We will be an entirely new creation living in a new age. Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection”.
Jesus is telling us first, there is going to be a resurrection of the dead, and second, the resurrection life is not going to be an extension of what we know in this life. So in death we are both comforted and scared. Comforted with the faith that Jesus has won a great victory over death with his resurrection. Paul tells us in Romans' 6 that if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We are comforted that as God's children, we are children of the resurrection. Our relationships with God and with one another are eternal.
And yet death scares us because life-after-death is not an extension of what we already know. We will be entering the unknown; a totally new age, an entirely new creation in which we shall all be changed and our relationships with God and with one another will be changed.
The Apostle Paul is certainly inspired by God when he writes these words in 1 Corinthians 15. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.
We will be changed. The change began at our baptism where we were incorporated into the body of Christ and became a part of him who was raised from the dead. We continue to change and grow in this life as we grow older and hopefully wiser. As we learn to love one another and to serve one another.
Then comes death. Members of Divinity came together 25 times since last All Saints Sunday to remember and give thanks for a life past. Last Sunday we lit candles in memory of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed through the gate of death to their eternal home. Tomorrow we remember our veterans, especially those who have died to preserve our freedom.
Maybe we would rather not die. Maybe we would rather live in this life forever. Someone has said if the baby in the womb had a choice, it would probably elect to stay where it was; warm, comfortable, and taken care of. The baby has no idea what life is like after birth. Perhaps that’s similar to this; we have no idea of what’s coming, no way to imagine how the resurrection will bring us a completely new and richer life than the life we have now.
All we can know is that there will be a new life, a resurrected life. Jesus tells us in the last verse of this morning’s text that He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive. All are alive.
On this healing Sunday, we give thanks for Dr. Li and her skills in healing breast cancer. We give thanks for young people like Rachel Potter studying at Kent State to become a nurse. Rachel submitted this essay to our Parish Health Ministry to receive her scholarship.
I am applying for this scholarship because I am a student at Kent State who recently got accepted into the four year BSN program. Since freshman year of high school, I have wanted to become a nurse. I fell in love with helping people through community service and mission trips. On mission trips, we usually worked with little kids and were able to spend time with them daily and help bring smiles to their faces. I realized that I want to be able to do the same thing for the rest of my life but for kids who are sick and are spending their time in the hospital and I want to be able to help them get better and care for them while they are sick. During my first year at Kent State, I was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA for both semesters while also joining a sorority that raises money for Akron's Children's Hospital and Miracle Network Hospitals. Through raising money for Children's hospitals and going on mission trips, I know that I want to work in either the NICU or PICU once I receive my degree and license. I think I am deserving of this scholarship because I am a hard worker and avid about wanting to help people who are ill get better and get back to being healthy. I am also active in the church and I know that God will always be with me in my journey to become a nurse and when I am active in the hospital.
If I received this scholarship, it would help pay for books and other items I would need to achieve in my classes. Without Divinity, I wouldn't be who I am today and I am excited to start the path in becoming a nurse.
Because our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.