The Word This Weekend – November 10, 2019
“Till Death Do Us Part”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
Jesus said to [the Sadducees and those within hearing], “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
This past weekend we observed All Saints Sunday, remembering those who have died, and praying for the entire Communion of Saints, living and dead, even now surrounding the deathless presence and peace of the Son of God in glory. During our services we read the names of those on our hearts, in remembrance of our departed loved ones, and shed a few tears as we commended one another to the deathless love of Christ.
With this service and its realities still ringing in my ears, I’ve been reflecting on the section of Luke 20 that we will hear at this coming weekend’s services. Jesus confronts a challenging question from members of the Sadducee sect of his day, elite aristocrats who denied the resurrection of the dead as a consequence of their reliance on the ultimate authority of Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) over traditions regarding the afterlife that had emerged in subsequent centuries, recorded in the Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).
They propose a challenging and intriguing scenario – that of a childless woman widowed seven times over, consigned to be hitched to a series of seven brothers under the edict of Levirite marriage enjoined in Deuteronomy. “Whose wife will she be in the afterlife,” they query, “since she was married to all seven of them?”
Jesus’ answer is direct and authoritative. “In this age people are married and given in marriage.” His response is as clear as day. In our human societal organization, people joined to one another in marriage, surrounded by families and loved ones for this rite, “till death do us part.” As modern as we may feel we have become, we still retain much of this organizing principle in our marital symbols. Especially when the spouses are young, parents and their children are walked down the aisle, kissed and transferred to their spouses, and promises for life are exchanged and sealed in prayer and hope, “till death do us part.”
But Jesus goes on. “But in the age to come, there is no marriage or giving in marriage.” In this simple statement, punctuated by images of the new age of eternal life, spiritual reality and equal child-hood in the deathless Reign of God, such organizations drift into history, replaced by a new being not constrained by this world’s structures of spouses, parenthood, ownership or belonging.
Paul’s amazing statement in Galatians 3 puts an even sharper point on this vision of the new age to come:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,
heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)
The beauty and power of Christ’s vision of the age to come is impressed with this Pauline view – that all of the divisions and structures of society, old and new, have already given way to a new reality and identity for all who are bound to the deathless life of the Water. For the saints, now and in the life to come, the divisions of race and culture (e.g. “Jew and Greek”) no longer hold and no longer exist.
Further, the corporate human sin of “owner and owned” is replaced among the saints with an equal dignity as sisters and brothers under God’s sovereignty – and that’s not just a statement about literal enslavement and bondage, but about any concept of ownership of another by any human being. No one is the property of another human being, not just of masters and mastered, but according to any arrangement where one’s autonomy and worth is sublimated to another, in any way, shape or form.
And, perhaps most striking, even our gender relationships are done away with. “No longer male and female” – in the life of the saints our relational limitations and biases around men and women are struck down as well. Our fundamental relationship is no longer conditioned by our “plumbing,” or by the history of assumptions humans have made about the nature of these complex and hierarchical structures of the current age.
For the saints, in the here and now of Baptism, and in the fullness of Christ’s embrace, we are simply Children of God, co-equal and co-heirs, in a reality we can scarce understand and embrace in this world, yet promised for all who will rest in Christ’s saving and redemptive arms.
As we gather again for worship this weekend, I pray that we will together experience anew the depth of God’s gift of eternal and liberating life. I pray that the “till death” structures of this world will give way in our midst to this grand vision of deathless unity, deathless equality, and deathless affection, won for us on the Cross of pain and victory, and enfleshed for all the Baptized through Water, Word and Table.
My continuing prayer is that we will gather with the Saints at the River, as one reconciled and devoted People of Grace -- cleaving to the Word that makes us one in faith and service, and feasting at the Table whose very name – Communion – calls us to a Oneness beyond all this sinful world might use to entice us or seek to deny us. May we once again rededicate our lives and fortunes to the living and daring confidence of faith and following to which the Risen Christ calls us. Join me in worship and in work -- In the name of the Christ who embraced and conquered death itself, for the life and unity of the whole God-blessed world. Till death do us unite!
With You in God’s Good Work,