Sermon for Third Sunday before Advent
Sunday 7 November 2010
The Riddle which is Life after Death (Luke 20. 27-38)
Riddles have been around since the time of Jesus. Maybe longer than that.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus was asked a riddle. It was posed by a group of people called Sadducees. These were people who did not believe in life after death. They were trying to trick Jesus into agreeing that there was no resurrection and no life beyond the grave. I’ll remind you of the riddle they posed: “The law of Moses says that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. Then the third brother married her. This continued until all seven brothers had married the same woman. Finally, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be after the resurrection since all seven were married to her!”
Jesus’ answer to the riddle was basically to say that life beyond death is very different, utterly different to life here and now. And in a way that is the most important thing we can say about the afterlife. That what it will be like is, in fact, itself, a kind of riddle. St Paul says that we will be spirits, but at the same time we will have bodies. But how can you be a spirit and a body at the same time? It’s a riddle. So when people ask me what life after death will be like the first and most important thing I have to say is that I think it is indescribable. That it is so difficult to know and to explain that words fail me. I think we should be very reserved in trying to describe the nature of the afterlife. Of course some people think they’ve got it all sewn up. They claim they know exactly what will happen. I am deeply distrustful of such people. Having said that we all feel the need to try to imagine it in some way or another. Faced with the mystery and often the misery of death we need to try to understand something of what will happen to those we love and to ourselves when we pass on. Here are a few pointers: 1. Jesus said there would be life with God after death. He said that his God was, “not the God of the dead, but of the living.” 2. The Bible and Christian belief emphasise that we will carry a large part of what we are now into the afterlife, above all our characters. 3. It emphasises that we will be recognisable to each other. 4. Nevertheless it states that that a great, a vast change will occur, the like of which we can only begin to grasp. 5. Finally, and most importantly, it emphasises that the hallmark of the afterlife will be love. There we will know and adore the perfection of love in ourselves, in those around us and above all in God who is the source of love.
We must be confident of God’s love which holds us in this life and which will continue to hold us in a much transformed and unimaginably magnified way in the life of the world to come. This is no riddle. God has made his love abundantly clear in the birth, life, death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Third Sunday before Advent | Sunday 7 November 2010