Love and Resurrection ~ Feb 16
Resurrection was no more normal in the 1st Century than it is today. But, in Jewish thought it was not completely unknown. The Jews of Moses’ day did not have a worked out theology of the after-life. Something happened when one died, but what it exactly was remained unclear. Upon death, everyone went to She’ol, a place of darkness, regardless of their degree of goodness or faithfulness. What happened when you arrived and how you experienced were not explained.
By Jesus’ day, however, Jewish thinking regarding life after death had developed in a different direction. It was believed by many that there would be a resurrection of the righteous dead. This would take place during the reign of the Messiah. (Or in the “age to come”.) This thinking showed up in Daniel and in Ezekiel, and many places outside of the Old Testament, but it was not universally accepted by all Jews. Two examples that rejected this belief in a resurrection include the Sadducees, who lived in Jerusalem and were closely associated with the Temple, and the Essenes, a separatist group that lived near the Dead Sea (and may be responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls). These two, very different, religious and political groups rejected the notion of a future resurrection of the righteous. However, the Pharisees, the group Jesus seemed to be the most critical of, and most similar to, did believe in a resurrection of the righteous.
In Matthew 22, the Sadducees are singled out as people not believing in the resurrection. They attempt to trick Jesus’ by asking a question that would seem unanswerable. Of course, this is not a problem for Jesus at all when he replies:
29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels[b] in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.”
This hope of resurrection is also illustrated in the story of Lazarus. At his death we read of Jesus’ grieving his friend’s death, but in the account from John 11, we also see the subject of resurrection come up in Jesus interaction with the sister of Lazarus. We catch a glimpse of the Jewish belief in resurrection in her words and Jesus’ response.
21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
There was a hope for renewed life in the coming age. This is related to the concept of “eternal life” that appear in John’s Gospel. However, “eternal life” is better translated as, “life in the age to come”. This age to come will include the resurrection of the righteous.
Resurrection, in our day, is completely unexpected except by those who have trusted in the resurrection of Jesus. Many attempts have been made to cast the event of the resurrection into a figurative, metaphorical, or some kind of less than historical light. This is understandable. Renewed life of a deceased person is hard to accept. But, the Christian imprint on our culture has left us with a hope in the resurrection that makes sense and even some cultural artifacts that dare us to hope.
As I mentioned previously, we don’t believe in the resurrection because resurrection is easy to believe in. We believe in it because of the testimony of those who were witnesses to Jesus after he had died. We believe in it because those who followed Jesus, and suffered because of such faith, were completely convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had come back to life again proving that he was the Lord of All—even Lord over death. We believe in the resurrection of Christ not because resurrections happen all the time and are therefore easy to believe. No, we believe in the resurrection because a community of testimony has existed, un-interrupted, for almost 2000 years who have proclaimed with their mouths and displayed with their actions and paid with their lives the truth that Jesus has risen.
Resurrection requires witnesses. The Body of Christ has proclaimed the truth of his resurrection then and we still do today. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!
Here is the collect for this week:
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Love and Resurrection
February 16, 2019