A Homily for Vespers during the Fifth Week of Lent
Text: St. Matthew 22:23-33
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.
Waaaaaay back in the very first season of The Simpsons, young rapscallion Bart badgers his Sunday School teacher with question after question before asking:
Ma’am. What if…your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?
Hinting that this is not the first time the spiky-haired rebel has broached the topic, the long-suffering Ms. Albright responds with an exasperated:
For the last time, Bart, YES.
Goofy though it may be in the hands of the writers’ room, this has been a question that has plagued Christian theologians for centuries. What if I donate a kidney? Does the donor or the recipient get it in the afterlife? Or what about my wisdom teeth? They were removed my senior year of high school. Will I have them when Jesus comes again in glory?
Far from a simple thought exercise or the punchline for an animated sitcom, the question has had real-world consequences: up until the twentieth century, cremation was simply not an option for most Christians. It was considered a blasphemous act and a denial of the Resurrection. How could your body be resurrected, the question went, if the body itself was destroyed?
Today, the Sadducees’ question is not so terribly different: suppose a woman’s husband dies; in keeping with the Law of Moses, the husband’s brother steps in, but he dies, too. And so another brother steps in, and the family has another funeral. So on and so forth until this woman is widowed seven times over. At the Resurrection, what happens to this unfortunate family? Who’s she going to be married to?
Were our Lord Christ able to give Bart Simpson or the medieval theologians an audible answer the same way he debated the Sadducees, I suspect his response would be similar – although I’m going touch it up with some Aaron Sorkin): “You are wrong. Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and get used to it because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
Bart, the medieval theologians, and the Sadducees try to impose physical human needs and reason on what is utterly outside human understanding: as if to say that the problem of a gangrenous leg (or missing wisdom teeth or a donated organ or even scattered ash) is somehow a bigger problem than death itself. The Triune God formed us from the dust of the earth before; what makes us think that returning to dust and ash would be a problem for the restored creation?
Marriage was instituted that humans might love each other and provide mutual aid and comfort, and for procreation. But those will surely not still be issues when we are united with the entire company of saints in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – when we are all united in the perfect love and eternal life of the Blessed Trinity.
But the glory of the Resurrection is precisely that it is beyond our comprehension, an overturning of the rules of nature. It is a miracle, the power of God defying the most basic reality.
As we approach Holy Week and the sacred mystery of our Lord’s Passover from death to life, let us remember the promise that Christ made to Mary and Martha: Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Even though we die, through Christ we shall live – whole, complete, and in the community of saints, as the Triune God has always intended for us.