A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, November 10, 2013.Bernice Bell
A week ago we stood in procession and read their names. We remembered them. But it was more than just memory. We solemnly offered them to God in thanksgiving and in hope.
And each name had a face, a story, a life lived that compelled us to remember them. Each name, each life had shaped us in some way. Some profoundly. Some subtly. Some were known but to a few. Some seemed bigger than this grand space itself.
And many, many, many more.
And as we read them, we sang
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
We read the names of the dead and sang Alleluia, Alleluia. In the eyes of the world, it has to be one of the more peculiar things that we do. We stand at the grave and yes, we weep. But that is not all we do. Even at the grave we sing our song:
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
We sing Alleluia because we are people of trust. Of trust in something more than this life. We trust that on each one of us there is an imprint of the divine that can never die even when our mortal bodies pass into death. We trust that in death, life is changed, not ended. We trust that we are bound together – the living and the dead – in a great communion of saints.
And we trust that every time we gather at this table we join with that heavenly chorus – with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven – in singing God’s praise. That we do not sing alone. That those who have gone before are singing with us still.
We trust that there is something more than this life. And we don’t claim to know what it looks like. Artists, poets and theologians throughout the centuries have given us images – most of which look like the kind of opulence we aspire to here on earth. Heaven as reclining on a cloud or something that looks suspiciously like a retirement villa in Coral Gables. But the truth is we don’t know. We have no idea precisely what happens to us when we die. But we trust that Jesus was not lying to us when he said he was going to prepare a place for us. We trust that Paul was not lying when he said that nothing, not even death could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We trust that when this life is done, there is more. We have, as we say when we lay the ones we love into the ground, a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. And we have it together. And that means even in moments of extreme personal doubt, as a people, we are people of that trust, we are people of that sure and certain hope.
This sure and certain hope. The hope that leads us to do something so bizarre as to sing Alleluia at the grave. It is not just a safety net. It’s not just the flood rider on our insurance policy that lets us breathe a little easier when the rain comes down. Nor is our sure and certain hope just for consolation in the midst of grief -- that it really isn’t that bad because we’ll all be together again some day.
Our sure and certain hope of the resurrection is an assurance and it is a consolation, but it is not merely those things or even primarily those things.
Our sure and certain hope of the resurrection is our defining characteristic. It is what makes us who we are. And far from just a promise of a heavenly rest, it holds in its hands an invitation to shape the way we live every moment of every day of our lives on earth.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted by a group of Sadducees, a sect of Jews who said there is no resurrection. They looked around at this life and believed that this was all there was, and when it was done, it was done.
And they tried to trap Jesus with an absurd question – designed to make him admit what they believed, which was that the resurrection itself was a pretty crazy thing to trust in.
“Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be?”
It is an absurd story – either about the unluckiest woman who ever lived or one in which by the fifth or sixth brother you’d figure they were having someone else taste their food. And of course, Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap.
Jesus said to them:
Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
Jesus says, basically, wrong question. You are trying to take the resurrected life and make it fit into the categories of this world. In the world of Jesus’ time, one of the primary reasons for marriage was so that women – who were considered property – could be supported and not left destitute. Jesus is saying that in the resurrected life, the world is not so cruel as to require a system like that. In the resurrected life, all are children of God and all are naturally treated that way. In the resurrected life there is no fear. No fear of poverty. No fear of destitution. No fear of loss of any kind.
Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is critical for us, and not because it gives us some hints about the life to come. Because for Jesus, the resurrection is not just some future assurance, but a present reality. It is an eternal life not just chronologically extending to the horizon and beyond after death but a life eternal in depth of meaning and abundance of life and joy that we are invited into right now, today, every day of this mortal life that we share.
Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is critical for us because just as he invited them not to think of the resurrection in terms of the categories of this world, he invites us to think of this world in terms of the resurrection. Far from just a promise of a heavenly rest, Jesus’ promise of resurrection invites us to shape the way we live every moment of every day of our lives on earth. Jesus’ promise of resurrection reminds us that even though we live in this age, as his followers, we are not of this age. We are children of God. We are children of the resurrection.
And as children of the resurrection, we are convicted that because in death, life is changed, not ended, death is not something to fear. And could there be a belief, could there be a trust that should more profoundly shape how we live our lives? If we do not fear death, we are free to live boldly and joyfully. If we do not fear death, we are free to love and give abundantly without counting the cost.
If we do not fear death, we are truly free to live fearlessly. To listen deeply to the Gospel challenges of Christ to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves and to follow them holding nothing back. Why? Because what’s the worst that could happen? We could die! But even if we die, we are not separated from the love of God. Even if we die, we live!
Janis Joplin sang it – Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. In Christ, there is no death, there is no loss, so all that is left is freedom.
The freedom we have as children of the resurrection is our greatest gift, not just to ourselves, but to the world. It means we can be different – not only standing at graves and singing Alleluia but singing and dancing and loving and yes, even giving and spending boldly to love God and witness to the transforming power of God in the world.
The freedom we have as children of the resurrection is what can turn Christ Church Cathedral from a beautiful building and a friendly, loving group of people to a force for the Gospel that smashes the traditional categories that imprison God’s people and frees this city from the divisions and bonds that bind us in fear and scarcity. But we will never be that if we live fearfully as people of this age.
The freedom we have as children of the resurrection is what can turn each of us from prisoners to our own anxieties to bold adventurers living extraordinary lives full of love and joy. But we will never be that if we live fearfully as people of this age.
With every issue we grapple with and with every decision we make, Jesus invites us to trust in this sure and certain hope of the resurrection and to live without fear. To trust that we do not have to build up treasures on earth as insurance for the worst that can happen because if that worst does happen, Jesus already has our backs. To trust that we can live and love boldly and know that if we dedicate ourselves to following Christ faithfully, that no matter what happens we have nothing to fear.
Living like this will not be an easy road. The world around us will throw its conventional wisdom in our face and call us foolish and crazy. We will be tempted to hedge our bets at every turn and hold just a little back just in case. We will be tempted to doubt that sure and certain hope, we will be tempted to fear – and that’s why we so desperately need one another. We need one another to remind and help one another know that this kind of fearless living is not foolish but faithful. We need one another to remind and help one another in times of fear and anxiety not to shrink back but to bind ourselves even more closely to Christ and his resurrection promise.
Living not just in hope of the resurrection to come but living into the resurrection today is what made those saints before the extraordinary shapers of our life that they were. They are not just names in a litany or tiles in a columbarium. They are our living legacy, the shoulders on which we stand, and our fellow singers in the heavenly chorus. Their song is the melody that allows us to explore and create with glorious harmony. And together we create music so beautiful it can and has literally reshaped the world.
Together in beautiful harmony we make our song:
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.