Sermon for the Second Sunday before Advent
17th Nov 2019
The Second 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”. Luke 20.38
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 and not to be discounted. His thoughts echo those of St Paul who had declared “…and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching is in vain, and your faith is also vain.” Corinthians (15.17) The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Church’s ‘calling card; its birth right.
The Christian Teaching we receive is not one subject to ‘knock-down’ or irrefutable arguments. It is the revelation to the faithful of the divine scheme of things. In this respect, the resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes the transforming event. Of course, the life of the world to come is unimaginably different from what we know in the here and now. 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. At the burning bush, Moses speaks about the God as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 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 once and for all time bridge the unfathomable divide separating the living and the dead through his own rising. And so in Romans, Paul can come to 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, 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’. The Book of Wisdom reminds us that ‘In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their going from us to be their destruction. But they are (now) 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, and on Remembrance Sunday which we observed last week.
In the Christian Church, we not only remember the dead, we pray for individual souls, too. This our way of continuing to care and recognize the bonds of love that death can never break. We could say that death shows us God’s way of gathering up this life’s fragments of human life so that nothing is lost. All is becomes one in Him.
This is a hope which may sustain when darkness days comes, and there is uncertainty as to what life may hold in store for us in this fragile world of ours. In hope, we pray that the Spirit of the Living Lord may rise upon and overcome those times when we are anxious. 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, if on another shore and in a greater light. In bread and wine, we are one with that innumerable company we do not see, but who are our companions in faith, who travel with us towards the perfect vision of God.
The great crucifix in All Saints Church – The Church of the Ognissanti in Florence, Italy has recently 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 took 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 face 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. Life, death and resurrection become in Christ entirely comprehensible as one single unity and for us who believe, one reality.