Jesus had another argument.
I don’t imagine he was an especially argumentative person but sometimes you have a curve ball thrown at you.
One such curve ball was the Sadducees’ attempt to make him look stupid for believing in the resurrection from the dead.
Which, when you consider what happened to Jesus on Easter morning, was in fact going to make them look a bit stupid. But anyway…
The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection: that’s why they were sad, u see.
2000 years before John Lennon, they imagined, I suppose, that there was no heaven.
But resurrection, it would seem, was important to Luke, gospel writer, physician and follower of Jesus the healer. He writes his gospel as Roman persecution of Christians mounts, as injustice cries out to God, to bring ultimate reckoning, to bring in his kingdom.
We pray for the same every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer.
‘If it is only for this life we have hope, we are of all people to be pitied’, said Paul.
So Luke records this argument about imagining what comes next, because it matters.
It matters to anyone who’s suffered without reason, who’s seen a loved one unjustly imprisoned, oppressed, even killed, and there appears to be no justice. Yet.
The Sadducees, men of learning, men of realism, wanted to show Jesus up in his naive belief in resurrection because clearly the concept of resurrection doesn’t make sense of life as we know it.
Pie in the sky! Hopeless dreamer that he is!
And so they come up with their ethically complex remarriage scenario: not Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (kitsch 1954 film starring Howard Keel) but, rather grotesquely, one bride for seven brothers.
Moses taught that if a man married and died without descendants, his brother must take the widow and father children for the family line. Women were a possession to parcelled down, like a worn out sweater.
But how would remarriage play out if there were such a thing as resurrection from the dead?
You can just imagine it, can’t you?
Here is the woman who outlived seven husbands, arriving (rather exhausted) at the pearly gates, wondering with whom she is about to be reunited.
Because that’s what everyone always says at funerals – we’ll be together again.
You see it on headstones: Together At Last.
But, in this scenario, with which husband?
If you’ve been married to more than one person in your lifetime, how will that play out in heaven?
But Jesus says the Sadducees are wrong. They’re imagining resurrection, and eternal life, all wrong.
Because in glory, we’re finally, wholesomely, united to God; we don’t need to procreate, and we never die.
The married state is only for this life. ‘Till death us do part’, means just that.
Though the married state is beautiful, sacred and traditionally propagates the species, it is not, when the chips are down, when all’s said and done, when we shuffle off this mortal coil, the ULTIMATE relationship.
The ultimate relationship is our relationship with God.
Which is very good news for those who will never marry. Like Jesus.
In the Church, in society, we don’t celebrate singleness enough. Believers are married to Christ anyway. And that relationship, literally, will never end.
I can only imagine, goes a popular worship song about the resurrection life. What will it be like?
It will be qualitatively different life, but recognisably life.
Because to God, death is anathema. To him, all are alive – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and seers; ordinary people like your praying granny who fell asleep in Christ and the tiny baby who never quite saw the light of day.
The resurrection life is not more of the same, as the Sadducees thought; not more injustice, more war, more spin, more children dying from preventable diseases and more loved ones lost to cancer.
The resurrection life, apart from being hard to imagine, is nothing less that the reign of God over all creation, including you and me, and our ultimate healing.
If we face illness, pain, or intractable situations that are not resolving themselves, the resurrection from the dead gives us hope. Hope breaks into this life initially, but it lives on into the next.
Alternatively, if we ourselves live without the concept of resurrection/divine reckoning, like the Sadducees did, the resurrection from the dead, when it comes, might be a bit of a surprise…
‘You are wrong’, says Jesus. And thus the Sadducees are summarily dismissed. I wonder if they went away feeling like they’d just lost a really one sided presidential debate in front of a live audience?
Will I stand in your presence, to my knees will I fall? Will I sing Alleluia? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.*
*lyrics by MercyMe, from The Worship Project, 1999. Song inspired by the death of Bart Millar’s father, when the singer was only 18.