Last week, Tobias Winright reminded us that October 30th was the feast of St. Marcellus who was martyred because of his refusal to participate in the idolatry of the Roman Empire. From very early on the Church understood the importance of remembering and celebrating those who had departed to be with the Lord. However, over her two thousand year history, the Church has gathered far too many saints to give each their own feast day. Thus, while we still celebrate the most exemplary of the departed, we also set aside All Saints Day to remember the faithfulness of those every day saints who have gone before us. All Saints Day falls on the first of November, but at the level of the local church it is typically celebrated on the first Sunday of November. For this year’s celebration of All Saints the lectionary offers us a discussion of the resurrection from the Gospel of Luke.
The reading for the day follows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. These two actions were symbolically powerful and almost immediately the questions started as others attempted to understand what they have just witnessed. Questions arose about Jesus’ relationship to John the Baptist, his connections to David and his loyalty to Caesar.
It is within this complex of questions that the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question about resurrection. The catalyst for the question comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. According to the Law, for the sake of perpetuating the family line, a brother would be legally required to provide off spring to his deceased brother’s widow. It is worth our noting that the command, and thus the drive behind the Sadducees question, is concerned with progeny not marriage. The issue here is not Genesis 2.24 “and the two shall become one flesh” but rather Genesis 1.28 “Be fruitful and multiply.” Jesus’ reply points out that in wondering about family lineage, the Sadducees are asking the wrong kinds of questions. This particular law’s emphasis on child bearing helps us to see that the Sadducees are focusing on creation rather than new creation. Jesus’ answer reveals this flaw by pressing the distinction between those who live in this age and those who live in the next. “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage but those who are worthy of a place in that age…”
One of the primary differences is that those who live in the age to come “cannot die anymore.” That these “children of the resurrection” cannot die minimizes the concern of continuing the family name through producing heirs. Jesus then turns to his own biblical text to drive home his point that those who live in the age to come, live in the age to come. In Exodus 3:6, God names himself as “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all three clearly passed from this current age. Yet since God who is the God of the living, indentifies himself by a reference to them, they must be living. Or as Jesus puts it, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” They are then living in the new age as “children of the resurrection.”
The text ends with the Sadducees feigning understanding “for they no longer dared to ask him another question.” We are left in a similar position. Jesus gives us much to ponder. As the Church approaches All Saints Day a great many will turn their thoughts to the meaning of words like heaven, eternal life, and resurrection. What we are shown through this passage is that this new age, the age of resurrection will be radically different from our current age. It will be a time and place in which sin and death neither reign nor exist, a possibility so foreign to our lives that much like the Sadducees, we can hardly find the right questions to ask. Far from explaining the resurrection, Jesus helps us to see just how far God’s ways are above our own.
This new age, is the inheritance of all who have faith in Jesus Christ, not just Abraham or Marcellus but also our friends, parents, neighbors and enemies. The celebration of All Saints is not just a celebration of their earthly lives, as remarkable as they may have been. As the text shows, to focus on the everyday material of life in this age is to miss the point. Instead, we celebrate their life with God today and forever more, recognizing that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is not only the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, but also the God of Marcellus, Frank, Joel, Susan and the countless others who live with God eternally.