When people stand up at funerals and make reference to loved ones who have died they often express deep satisfaction that their mother is now reunited with their father or visa versa. We understand this. There is something deep inside all of us that hopes to be reconnected with those we love who have died. But interestingly in this debate between two large groups within the Jewish faith those who argued for resurrection and afterlife were making their case less because of family reunification and more because a God of love would never allow anything less than perfect justice to stand. In other words a God of truth and mercy would never allow injustice to stand.
If you recall the story of Holy Week you know that Jesus is making enemies, powerful enemies. Jesus has disrupted the Temple, is causing citizens of the Roman Empire to call him Lord, not Caesar, telling his followers that he is building a New Jerusalem and they are going to help him do it. For this the authorities act as they always did when someone is a threat to the order of the Empire, they arrest Jesus, torture him in a public place and then crucify him as they do all political prisoners. The public nature of the execution should work to dissuade anyone else from challenging the way things are.
Jesus’ followers run away and the women move to prepare his body for some form of burial. But at a crucial point in our story Jesus appears to his disciples and they recognize him, believe in him, and pledge to follow him even if it means their own death. That appearance, this resurrection, is less about Jesus’ friends reuniting with their companion and more about the way God will not allow the injustice of Good Friday to stand, evil cannot have the last word.
Within the Jewish community during the time of Jesus two distinct groups argued about this notion of resurrection. The Sadducees took the first five books of the Hebrew Testament quite literally and there was no resurrection to be found there. God was to be found in the law and fidelity to the law was a way of expressing faith in God. Preacher and scholar Bill Loader says, The Sadducees appear to have been the more culturally sophisticated of the identified movements among Jews at the time. Their followers tended to be among the leading priestly families and the aristocracy. As a good Jew Jesus would have understood this approach. But what likely bothered Jesus most about these Sadducees according to Loader was not their faith in the law but their faith in their privilege and class. The motivation to work for change would not be strong for those who found themselves at the top of the heap.
Meanwhile the Pharisees embraced the idea of resurrection from the dead. It was a way of putting flesh on hope, so to speak, in days when justice in this world seemed irretrievable. The righteous would surely be rewarded; they will surely be raised from the dead. Otherwise life does not make sense. These ideas were based on the faith that God is a liberator. The Sadducees rejected such speculation and were prepared to ridicule its exponents.
That is what is happening here. The focus of the discussion in this text is not the widow and what she had to go through, whom she would be married to in Heaven but the intellectual quicksand into which Jesus and the Pharisees entered with such crazy ideas. The Sadducees wanted to undercut Jesus’ message, also the Pharisees message, namely that resurrection was possible, that justice would, in the end, prevail and evil would be defeated.
Let me say that many persons who do not believe in resurrection do have an account of justice and work very hard to achieve this. But Jesus’ account of justice does include the resurrection. That the God of love and life does not abandon us, and that in the end that which was left undone will be completed in Eternal life. While many scholars of the Gospels question the specifics of the resurrection stories they all agree something very radical happened to those disciples who saw Jesus post-crucifixion. And it was this vision that caused those same disciples to speak and act on the truth, no matter the consequences.
On this day of reflection I suggest that the connection of Remembrance Day to the Gospels is not tied to love of country, not to love of family, not even to love of service. We all have learned in history that many terrible and unjust acts have been done in the name of patriotism, ethnicity and military service. I think that is why the Second World War seems to resonate with so many generations of Christians, because of what was at stake. Even a committed pacifist like Dietrich Bonhoeffer would resolve to participate in a plan to kill Hitler reasoning that the evil Hitler embodied could never be overcome without resort to violence.
So on this day we baptize a beautiful baby I want you to consider other children born around our world. Think of that dear Syrian boy washed up on the shores, a victim of war and oppression. On this day when we think of all of those Bethany funerals we have witnessed in the last few weeks I want you to consider Loretta Saunders and all other missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country. On this day when we think of members of our family who live with dementia I want you to remember men like the late Jim Seary, a veteran who was awarded medals of bravery because he put his own life at risk to save the lives of countless victims of the Nazi Empire.
In short I want you to think about the resurrection Jesus shared, where justice overcame oppression, where good triumphed over evil, where love supplanted hate. This is the resurrection of new life, a promise we keep with our own witness. Justice. Not just us. Thanks be to God for these cloud of witnesses. Amen.