The Living and the Dead in Christ
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You are not an alone. All baptized believers are a part of the People of God – a spiritual family that goes back to the beginning. This helps us know who we are, and shows us that we belong.
The Sadducees visit Jesus one day. This was during a time in Jesus’ ministry when it seems like everybody was trying to trip him up. To catch him in a lie or a mistake. To prove that he wasn’t a teacher from God. And there is nothing more likely to trip someone up than talking about Marriage!
The Sadducees thought they had him because Moses, their ancestor and lawgiver, had permitted divorce. They weren’t really looking back at the past for answers in the present, and direction for the future.
Instead, they were trying to use their ancestor to trip up Jesus.
So Jesus points them in a different and more important direction. He knew that the Sadducees denied the resurrection. They believed that the grave was the end. So for them, Abraham, Moses, and David were dead and gone forever. Jesus says, “God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
Jesus knew something about humanity that the Sadducees denied. We want to know where we came from, and that we belong, and that we will be reunited.
Human beings have always been curious about our ancestors, our family tree, and the afterlife. We all have a sense that somehow the past is a part of us.
We’ve always been curious about where we came from and who we are. We want to understand ourselves in light of the past. And we’ve also wanted to gain wisdom from the experience of the past, both successes and failures. And we’ve desired communion and reunion of some sort.
Human beings sense that there is life after death, and that those who have gone before us matter to us.
Ancient peoples were terrified of the spirits of the dead. They often tried to appease the spirits, including the spirits of their own ancestors. Christians brought about a powerful re-ordering and redemption of this fear, by supplanting these fears with the love and compassion of God in Christ. Now we see that we are in communion with the dead in Christ, we gain wisdom from them, and we look forward to reunion with them.
I know of a family that discovered an brother/uncle that no one knew about until he was a young adult. He had grown up believing he was an only child, and he didn’t know his real father. But he actually had a huge family, and when it was all revealed, I was worried that he might be shocked or upset. Instead, he was elated.
Of course he had to process the fact that he hadn’t been told the truth. But he was overjoyed to find out that he had five siblings, about twenty nieces and nephews, and many cousins. And he suddenly had a biological family tree that made sense.
Why is it so central to our human experience to want to know about our ancestors, and our family? Something about it connects us, tells us about ourselves, and gives us a special kind of wisdom and hope.
When we know our family, when we can learn from our elders, and when we can enjoy reunions, we love it.
The Wisdom of the Saints
Saint comes from the word “sanctified” which means “set apart.” Every baptized believer is “set apart” as a saint, according to Paul. But we also call some Saints. This doesn’t mean they were “perfect” Christians. It means that some aspect of God’s grace shined brightly in their lives, and was seen and acclaimed by many others.
Tish Harrison Warren writes that
We have received the good news from Christians before us who received it from Christians before them, strong and weathered hands handing down the ‘deposit of faith’ generation after generation, wavering but faithful, struggling yet enduring, sinful and sanctified. When we celebrate these countless saints, we remember the larger, longer story of redemption into which we were born.
This focus on the past helps us gain wisdom for the present. By focusing on these saints, we can learn from them.
Communion of the Saints
And since there is only one Body of Christ in heaven and on earth, we also celebrate our communion with them. Of course, this is mystical communion, which means that its out of our control. But we know it is real. We are in fellowship with those who have gone before us, since we are all in Christ.
Tish Warren writes:
At Communion during my first All Saints’ service, my pastor, reminded us that the part of the Communion table that we see—the visible part—is only a tiny fraction of the table. He asked us to imagine that it stretched on, beyond the visible dimension, and that as we eat and drink together we do so with the whole of the church from all of history. As we sing songs in worship, the saints who have come before us and the angels sing with us. As we worship Jesus, our head, his whole body, past and present, global and local, worships with us. We know in part what those saints who have traveled home before us now know more fully.
This helps us satisfy our human longing for communion with those who have gone before, and also comforts us with the knowledge that we will not be alone after we die.
Reunion of the Saints
And we also celebrate our hope for reunion. All who die in Christ are alive in him, and we will be resurrected together. So we aren’t just pining for the past, we are looking forward to a grand reunion.
St Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)
We are Not Alone
We know where we came from, and who we are. We have a whole history that provides us with wisdom, passed on through God’s working though and in his people. We have a treasure house of wisdom. We look forward to a future reunion, giving us hope that our longing for eternal fellowship will be satisfied someday.
So in the words of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
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