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Parents may be familiar with the kind of question that sometimes comes from a child: “What would happen if....?” There then follows some impossibly contorted conjecture, some weird sequence of events, on which you, the fount of much knowledge, are supposed to be able to pronounce the outcome!

One bride for Seven brothers
It was with just such an almost impossible set of events that the Sadducees came to Jesus, believing they had a knock-down argument that disproved the resurrection. The Sadducees were one of the main religious movements of the day, but were more like a political party. The priests and the wealthy aristocrats were all Sadducees - they made sure to keep on good terms with the ruling Roman authorities, so they opposed revolutionary ideas which might offend them. They accepted the laws of Moses, but rejected the teachings of the prophets, who proclaimed that when the Messiah came, the dead would rise from their graves and return to earth in the kingdom of God. The Pharisees believed in resurrection; the Sadducees rejected it, because it's nowhere mentioned by Moses, and would upset the status quo. Pharisees and Sadducees were often at each other's throats; the only thing that united them was their shared hatred of Jesus. So some Sadducees invented a preposterous story about seven brothers, who all, one after the other, married the same woman. Under Levitical law, a brother was obliged to marry his widowed sister-in-law if he was free to do so. It might seem strange to us, but it was to do with inheritance and the way families worked in those days. Love matches didn’t always come in to it! 'What would happen if they all returned to earth?' the Saduccees asked with a sarcastic sneer, 'Which would be her husband? All seven?' One bride for seven brothers? That disproves resurrection! (or so they thought).
God of the living
Jesus answered this absurd argument courteously. He didn't question their assumptions, though he easily could have done. Instead, Jesus started from the books which they believed in. In the story of the burning bush, the Lord is described as 'the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'. When Moses asked him who he was, God said, 'I AM who I AM'' ‘Now,' Jesus continued, 'he's God, not of the dead, but of the living.' Putting that into today's language, God's not interested in presiding over a kingdom of corpses. He wants living people to love, who'll love him in return. So there must be life after death, because that's what God made us for. He is the ever present I AM at the heart of the universe, the eternal fount of life.

Beyond our imagining
We started by reading this Gospel as a scene of argument and opposition. We looked at the controversy and the threat to Jesus posed by the Sadducees' questions. But there is another way of reading the passage, especially as we approach Advent, when we consider the end of time. We are encouraged to think about God's eternal plan. Consider the kind of afterlife Jesus is describing here. Reject the vague fantasies of your childhood, and the confusion we have been left with by the advances of modern science, which have so clearly shown us what lies above the heavens. Yet wait a minute - what of Einstein's theory of relativity? What of recent descriptions of parallel universes and anti-matter? Consider the words of the Creed: if God is truly the Maker of 'all things visible and invisible', seen and unseen, we are acknowledging the mystery of other worlds, and the possibility of other states of being. There seems to be room after all for notions of eternity.

The ever present I AM
Sometimes we can be childish trying to figure out a complicated “What happens when we die?” Jesus chooses not to pander to our childish urge to know exactly what life after death will be like, but rather turns to the words God spoke to Moses: “I AM who I AM.”

God is God of continuing creation, full of unending energy, and not God of destruction. In him all things are alive. And Jesus is saying that Abraham, once alive, is alive still. Once we have been lit by God's spark and our selves have been loved into being, God will always know us and cannot let us go.

It was in response to a different kind of complicated panic that Paul wrote to calm the anxieties of the Thessalonians. Don’t be put off by all sorts of speculation that the Messiah has already come, but just keep living your Christian lives in trust and hope, keeping to what you have been taught from Scripture, and putting your faith in the Lord. Don’t get caught up in strange stories and complicated theories!

One of the things that often gives us comfort in bereavement is the thought that one day we will see our loved ones again. That is right, and we can believe that they are where we left them at their funeral – in the loving care of our Heavenly Father to whom we commit them. But Jesus’ response to the Sadducees was to give us a glimpse that it will all be so much more. Life in heaven will be far more intense and filled with love than even the most intimate and loving of our relationships here on earth. Can we imagine the possibility of our senses and thoughts being so overwhelmed by God's grandeur that all our attention is directed to him, and all the restlessness of our earthly life is over? The longing to recognize our loved ones, however deep and important, will seem pale in comparison to being caught up in worship, joy and glory. In the resurrection Kingdom we will be in the company of our great-grandparents we never knew and our great grandchildren yet to be born. And yet in heaven we will all turn our faces towards God, the same God who has always been there and who is with us in our lives now.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith




God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord.