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All Saints' Sunday, November 6, 2016 | 4:00 p.m.
Alive to God
Minister for Congregational Life
I wish I could tell you definitively what happens to us when we die. But I’m happy that I haven’t done the research that would allow me to tell you that.
I know what I believe though. I believe that in life we are part of something much, much bigger than ourselves; that we are part of God’s creation and that we are part of God; that we live and move and have our being in God.
I love that saying by the Apostle Paul, that we live and move and have our being in God. He says that he is quoting Greek poetry when he affirms that (Acts 17:28).
I believe this is true of our life—that our life is in God. And I believe the same thing about our death—that we are in God in our death.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees disagreed about life after death. They disagreed about resurrection. The Pharisees believed in resurrection, but the Sadducees did not, as our scripture today tells us.
“Some Sadducees,” our verse in the Common English Bible begins, “who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked.” They asked what they thought was a trick question.
If a woman is married to seven different brothers throughout the course of her life, what happens when she dies and is resurrected? Which one is her husband in death?
The Sadducees, who don’t believe in resurrection, want to make a logical argument to show that resurrection doesn’t make sense and therefore is not real.
But Jesus says, basically, you’re comparing apples to oranges. They’re not the same. In this life we marry, but in the next life there is no marriage. So your arguments comparing this life to that life don’t work.
But Jesus only briefly touches on this question about marriage, because he knows the question about the widow is not the real question.
The Sadducees are really asking how can resurrection be possible? It’s not logical. So even though they don’t ask the question in this way, Jesus moves on to answering their implied question.
He talks about the nature of our relationship to God, saying that to God we are always alive. But if we’re always alive, then what is death? If we have a resurrected life, then death is not the end.
Someone who gave me a new and beautiful image about this is John O’Donohue, a priest who called Jesus a poet carpenter. O’Donohue was himself a poet and he often spoke in beautiful, evocative metaphor.
What if we got it all wrong about death, he said. What if we got it backwards by thinking of death as an ending? What if death is a second birth?
Imagine if we could talk to a baby just before it was about to be born and describe to them what’s going to happen.
We might say to the baby, you’re about to be expelled from the shelter of the womb where you have been formed. You’ll be pushed along a passage where you feel at every moment like you are being smothered. You’ll be squeezed to the point where you feel you’re suffocating.
Finally, after a long time, you’ll be pushed out into a vast vacancy with cold, bright, merciless light, and then the cord that connects you to the mother heart will be cut.
From then on, you will always be deeply alone, no matter who you are close to in your life. There will be a deep solitude and a longing for that connection to the mother heart.
You’ll be going on a journey without a map; you won’t know where you’re going and anything can happen to you.
If you could tell a baby this, you could imagine them saying, oh no! I don’t want to go. It’s been so great in here, but it sounds like now I’m going to die. I’m going to lose everything that’s been wonderful and comfortable.
We think of death like a baby might think of birth, if a baby could think about it. We tend to see the destructive side of death, to see what we are losing. It’s much harder to think about a bigger world opening up to us.
In the resurrected life we enter into a new kind of relationship with God in which the loneliness of space and time no longer have a hold over us.
I can’t tell you exactly what that will be like. There is not a map. And it’s frightening. There are losses, and we need to grieve them.
And those of us left behind by the death of our loved ones, we have to find a new way of life here and now. We have to find our own connection to the mother heart of God, who loves us unconditionally.
The Sadducees ask Jesus a question that revolves around human relations—how are we connected to other humans in the life of the next age? Who’s married to whom?
But Jesus’ answers revolve around God. He explains how we humans are related to God and how God is related to us.
When Moses at the burning bush calls God the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, this is not just a recitation of the names of dead patriarchs. It’s not that God was their God in the past when they walked the earth. It’s more than that. God is still their God, Jesus said, because they are still alive to God.
God is still actively in relationship with them. This is the message Jesus gave the Sadducees about resurrection. Our relationship with God will never be broken.
In a few moments we’ll be having a ceremony on light. On the table you’ll see an icon, a very famous image of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev. It shows God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; parent, child, and spirit of life—in relationship.
The idea of the Trinity shows us that God is always in relationship. God’s way of being is a relational way, and we are always invited into that relationship. That’s how God is, and that’s who God is: a relational God.
After we say together our Affirmation of Trust and Commitment, we’ll begin to sing. At that time anyone who wants to come forward is invited to light a candle in remembrance of those who have passed on to be more deeply and fully present with God and alive in God.
Remembering them, we grieve our loss of them, but we also bless their new life in the fullness of God’s love. To God they are alive. Amen.
Affirmation of Trust and Commitment
In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God,
the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.
We trust in God the Holy Spirit,
everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith,
sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor,
and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture,
engages us through the Word proclaimed,
claims us in the waters of baptism,
feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation,
and calls women and men to all ministries of the church.
With believers in every time and place,
we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—From the Brief Statement of Faith, Presbyterian Church (USA)