I Know that My Redeemer Lives

Every Sunday is a little Easter–that is, every week we celebrate Christ’s victory over death and experience the joy of the resurrection in word and meal together. Some Sundays are a little more little Easters than others, though. Yesterday, all of our readings had to do with resurrection in one way or another. We heard Job declare that in the last day he would see God in his flesh, Paul warned the Thessalonians to hold fast to what they knew to be true about the end times, and Jesus discussed what resurrection looks like with some Pharisees. What questions do you have about the resurrection?

Alleluia, Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!). You all did really well with that, I thought it might take a second or two for you to catch on. It feels out of place for me to use the traditional Easter Sunday greeting on a random Sunday in November. But the word of the day today is “Resurrection.” It is absolutely everywhere in our readings.

The first lesson, from the book of Job, sees Job himself declare: I know that my Redeemer lives…and in the last day…in my flesh, I shall see God.” Job, who at this point has seen his entire life destroyed, and had his friends badger him about what he did to deserve it (he hadn’t done anything to deserve it, by the way), Job says to those friends: I know that God is alive, and that means this is not the end of my story.

In Second Thessalonians, Paul is writing to those who are shaken and alarmed by the things they see happening around them. He tells them not to lose sight of the hope of their calling. These tumultuous times and rulers that they are living through do not get the final word on their lives, but rather God, who has called them in love, and chooses them to be the first fruits of salvation. So, hold fast to that hope in the face of worry and anxiety, says Paul.

And finally, in our gospel reading, Jesus is approached with a question from some Sadducees. If a married man dies childless, his widow is married to his next oldest brother. In the Sadducees’ story, there are seven brothers, and seven childless deaths. How is this going to work in the resurrection, they wonder? To whom will the woman belong? This practice is known as Leverite marriage—it was part of the laws of Moses—and its purpose was to care for the widow. A woman without a son or a husband was incredibly vulnerable in ancient times. This law was a way of protecting her and of providing descendants for the dead brother.

The Sadducees’ story provides an exaggerated case of something that really did happen. And they want to see how Jesus thinks the resurrection works. I had a theology professor in seminary who, whenever you asked a question, invariably asked you, “Why do you ask that question?” Eventually, we started to preempt him by sharing our reasons for asking before ever asking the question. He knew, though, that questions about God, about the Bible, about the resurrection, about church—they often stem from real situations, from our worries and doubts about ourselves and our family and what will happen to us.

Now, Jesus knew why the Sadducees were asking this question. As Luke helpfully explains in his narration, Sadducees, unlike some other Jewish groups at the time, did not believe in the resurrection. They’re not asking this question because they have been widowed and remarried or know someone who has. They’re not actually concerned about the plight of the woman in their story or anyone like her. They want to trap Jesus by mocking his own beliefs. They want to point out how silly believing in the resurrection is.

And when Jesus answers them, he almost says, “Yes, you’re right. The resurrection doesn’t make any sense. At least, not the way you’re thinking about it.” The Sadducees are asking the wrong question. Who will the woman belong to in the resurrection? She will belong to God. The very premise of their question is wrong. Their conception of God is too small. To try to grasp what the resurrection will be like in earthly terms is impossible; it’s a reality of an entirely different order, an order that can only be approached by faith. The ways we define relationships and society won’t apply, because they won’t be needed.

The Sadducees hoped to trip Jesus up with this story of the widow handed from brother to brother. Jesus knows why they’re asking this question, and he knows it isn’t sincere. But we often have very sincere questions about the resurrection: will I see my loved ones again? What will my body be like—will it be like my old age, or like when I was young? Will my grandmother—who didn’t know who I was for the last five years of her life—will she recognize me? Will there be dogs there? Or maybe even a genuine version of the Sadducees’ question: I have been widowed and remarried—what does that mean for me and my spouses? Is the resurrection even something I really believe in anyway?

We don’t ask these questions to one-up Jesus or to score theological points. We ask because we miss our loved ones. Because we wonder about what happens when we die. Because we’re scared that maybe there isn’t life after death after all. What is the resurrection like?

Well, I don’t know for sure, because no one’s ever experienced it and come back—except for Jesus. This is one area where we truly have to go on faith. But I think of Job, sitting in the literal ash heap of his life, resolutely, even stubbornly, defiantly declaring: I know that God lives. And because of that I know that I too will live. Despite all the evidence to the contrary around me, God is good and God intends life for us.

I think of the woman in the Sadducees’ story. What did resurrection look like for her? The idea of not being married or given in marriage in the resurrection was probably pretty appealing. Imagine her finally arriving in a place where her worth and her belovedness don’t depend on her husband, or her fertility. She no longer belongs to anyone but the God who created her and who now surrounds her with eternal, unconditional love.

Jesus doesn’t answer all of our questions about the resurrection in this passage. In fact, he might have created more questions in us than when he started talking. That’s okay. Questions aren’t bad. Questions come from our desire to know God and to understand our place in the world. Questions are good, as long as we’re okay with sitting with them sometimes. Because Jesus doesn’t answer them all, no matter how much we might wish he would.

What he does do, though, is point us to a God whose faithfulness to us is immeasurable and inexhaustible. A God who chose us, and called us, who gives us eternal comfort and hope through grace. And in God’s faithfulness to us, we find the strength to endure all that life and death will ask of us.

What will the resurrection be like? I’m not exactly sure. But I know that my Redeemer lives. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed.) Amen.

Blessed are you…

All Saints’ Sunday is one of my favorites of the church year. A time to commemorate all the saints who have gone before us and are at rest, all the saints who still form the church on earth today, and all the saints who are yet to be. Together forming one mystical communion that crosses the bounds of time and space.

And then we had our gospel reading, the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, one of my favorite passages. Luke doesn’t go Matthew’s route and spiritualize the conditions Jesus calls blessed: there’s no “blessed are the poor in heart, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake.” Instead for Luke it is just “blessed are you poor, blessed are you hungry.”

So, favorite day, favorite passage, this should be easy, right? The challenge was making these two things speak to and inform each other. What do the Beatitudes have to do with All Saints’? What does All Saints’ have to say about what blessing means?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

They’ve come from all around. The nearby villages and towns, but some from Jerusalem and all over Judea, even as far away as Tyre and Sidon. They’re dusty and tired, but they’ve come to see this Jesus that they’ve heard about. They’ve heard he can heal people who have been sick for years. They’ve heard he can cast out demons. They’ve heard about the kingdom he talks about—a kingdom where the blind will see, and the prisoners will be released. And they want to know it for themselves.

Some are poor and hungry, but hope that through seeing Jesus they might be fed. Others are dressed in fine clothes and are curious about what this Jesus means for them. Some are limping with illness and pain after their journeys. Others have rested at inns along the way. And as they watch, he and his newly chosen disciples come down off the mountain. And Jesus stands on a level place with the rest of the crowd. They’re reaching out to him, hoping to touch just a piece of his cloak. Hoping for healing. Hoping for a miracle.

And then he speaks. Only it’s not to heal or to cast out demons. It’s not to teach. It’s to bless them. He speaks right to them, as if they were important people, and says: Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry, blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you and defame on account of the Son of Man. Leap for joy and be happy!

They can’t believe it! Surely, they’ve heard him wrong. Blessed are…us poor ones? Who worry every day about how to take care of our families? Who have seen our children go hungry and suffer pain? Who cry in the night, unsure of how to face the next day? No one has ever called us blessed before. No one has seen us anything other than a burden, an inconvenience, a failure. Blessed are…us?

The Beatitudes, what we call these blessings that Jesus offers, are striking in their imagery, but also so very familiar to us. So familiar, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine what it was like hearing them for the first time. How shocking and surprising these blessings are. And, in a sense, how shocking to hear them today. On All Saints’ Sunday, why does the church have us read this list of blessings and woes, and not, maybe, something about saints?

What is All Saints’ Sunday about, anyway? Originally, it started as a feast day to honor all the early Christian martyrs whose names we do not know. Saints with names get their own feast days. But not wanting to forget those countless saints whose names are known only to God, the church began the feast of All Saints. And through the years, we’ve come to recognize not just the unnamed martyrs, but all those who have died in Christ, even especially those that we do know. Those saints who were very much known and loved and cherished by us.

But even as we remember and honor those who have died, All Saints is also about letting that remembrance shape our lives right now. Saint is not just a term that is reserved for those who have died. All of the baptized are saints of God. And that means that God has a purpose for us—right now. Our lives as saints do not begin with our deaths, but with our baptisms. And so, Jesus’ words about blessings and woe speak a powerful message to us saints on earth today.

How ought God’s saints be living and viewing one another? Jesus gives us a different ethic here, a kingdom ethic. To see and treat one another, not as the world does, but the way they are in the kingdom of God. The poor are honored. The grieving are comforted. The hungry are filled with good things. We are to pray for our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good for those who would harm us. This is what it means to be part of God’s new kingdom come, says Jesus.

And then there are those pesky woe statements. You notice I haven’t really touched on them yet. Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full now. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you. And this is where many of us might start to squirm in our seats. That sounds like me. I might not consider myself rich, but I certainly have enough. I have a full stomach and a pantry full of food. I’m not perfect, but I think people generally like and respect me. Why are these bad things? Aren’t these really the blessings, instead of poverty and hunger and grief?

But Jesus isn’t describing blessings the way we’re used to. He’s describing what blessing looks like in God’s kingdom. These woes shouldn’t be seen as some eternal damnation—instead think of them as a warning. Watch out! Says Jesus to the rich and full and happy. The things you think are advantages are actually misleading. You’re thinking about the wrong things when you think of blessing. The things you think are good might just be things that are drawing you further from God.

Instead Jesus invites us into a new way of being. A new community, a new social reality. We are invited into the communion of saints—the community of saints. To be a saint literally means to be a holy one, a person set apart. And that is who we are, a holy, set apart people, as we are marked as Christ’s own in baptism. With all the saints—past, present, and future—we get to be God’s body, God’s set apart people, in the world.

As our reading from Ephesians said, we are set apart for God’s purposes in this world. That’s what it means to be a saint. To be marked with God’s love and blessing, and to have that blessing shape us, shape the community we create to fulfill God’s purpose.

In this sermon on the plain, Jesus blesses us. He blesses some more directly than others, but he blesses the entire community gathered by forming as people of God’s kingdom, by shaping us into his body to be blessed and broken for the sake of the world. Rejoice in this day and leap for joy, for you are God’s blessed and holy saints, set apart for God’s purposes in this world. Amen.