Sermon for the Third Sunday before Advent
6th Nov 2016
The Third Sunday before Advent
Jesus is God of the Living and the Dead.
Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive”.
In today’s Gospel we have Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees, who denied resurrection, and it is revealing. It is written by Luke, who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. He writes for the life of the very early church. Luke is certain that the Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead is crucial for the life of the church. His thoughts echo those of St Paul who had written before him. In his Letter to the (1Corinthians 15.17) Paul declares “…and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also vain.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Church’s birth right and its bedrock.
This strong certainty is not one subject to some ‘knock-down’ or irrefutable argument. It is the revelation to the faithful of the divine will. The resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the transforming event and makes The Church possible. The life of the world to come is unimaginably different from what we know in the here and now. The difficulty lies in the span between these two seemingly separate worlds. But Jesus is firm in his knowledge that the life to come is as sure as ‘the angels in heaven’.
The defining story of the Old Testament is the one in which God reveals his sacred name in the burning bush. Moses speaks about God as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Jesus replies, centuries later, “Now he is God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20.38). In God, life and death are not separate; they are seen and understood in the one light. But ultimately it is Jesus who will bridge the unfathomable divide separating the living and the dead through his own Resurrection; and if His Resurrection, then our resurrection. And so in his Letter to the Romans, Paul can say that “If we are one with Christ in a death like his, we shall certainly be one with him in a resurrection like his”. (Romans 6.3).
Jesus is saying that to view the dead as, well, just dead, is a mistake. We need to see them as God does, in the light of his resurrection. ‘For to him all of them are alive’. Are there any words more comforting on the day when the dead are so much in our minds at this time? ‘In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their going from us to be their destruction. But they are at peace, and their hope is full of immortality’. (Wisdom 3.1-9). So if those we loved and honoured are forever alive and present to God, then they can and should be to us too. We were reminded of this strong fact in the Commemoration of All Souls, which we observed last week.
In the Christian Church, we not only remember the dead, we pray for individual souls, too. This is our way of continuing to care and to recognise the bonds of love that death can never break. Death shows us God’s way of gathering up the fragments of human life so that nothing is ever lost. All is becomes one, all is truly completed, in Him.
We come to this Eucharist to celebrate the risen Christ here among us. And because of the word he speaks to us today, we do not come here alone, but in the company of all who are in heaven, who rejoice with us. In bread and wine, we are one with that innumerable company we do not see, but who are our companions in faith, and who travel with us towards the perfect vision of God. And that vision has already been granted to us.
The great crucifix in All Saints Church – The Church of the Ognissanti in Florence, Italy has been cleaned and restored. It lay for many years in a storage room in the church, collecting dust and dirt until it was almost unrecogniseable. But now all is revealed. Revealed in fact to have been an original work by the painter Giotto. What was remarkable about Giotto’s genius painting was the layering of colour and also the painting of mood and emotion to an extreme degree, even though in matt and where the colours invariably appeared very flat.
The cleaning has taken four years and now it appears to us as it did over seven hundred years ago, as a minor miracle, a vision of the glory of God shining in the body of the crucified Christ. Giotto would have argued about the resurrection and the last things as did the Saducees. But One look at his painting, a crucifix, offers you both the terribleness of the Cross with the promise of the life to come burnished in its gold and deep blue lapis lazuli. Meditate upon this Cross, he seems to say, and in and through all its meaning, even unto death, the resurrection hope is already being revealed to you in no uncertain terms. Life, death and resurrection become in Christ one single unity, one expression, and for us who believe, one reality for now and for always.