December 14, 2019

Sermon: Life after Life after Death

Tuscany Sunset (2019)

Sermon: Luke 20:27-38
Life after Life after Death

But resurrection life, Jesus insists, is qualitatively different. The ordinary events and relationships by which we track our journey though this mortal life — marriage, childbirth, graduations, retirements and so on — do not characterize our eternal lives because resurrection life is not merely an extension of this life but something wholly different.

• David Lose

• • •

The Lord be with you.

Last week, for All Saints Sunday, we talked about how our loved ones, even though they have died, are alive in Christ, and still present in mystical communion. The Creed calls this the communion of saints.

Today we come to a Gospel passage that reminds us of another article of the Creed. Each week we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.”

It has been my experience that people tend to get these things mixed up. There is a difference between “life after death” and the resurrection. As a hospice chaplain, I deal with questions about life after death every day because I deal with people who are dying and who are about to find out what happens when we die. But there is something beyond that called the resurrection, and that is our subject this morning.

Most people I meet have a general belief that we “go to heaven when we die.” They conceive of heaven as a real place “up there” somewhere where God is and where those who died are alive again and not suffering anymore, but pretty much carrying on life as we know it down here. People picture mom and dad dancing again, grandpa playing cards with his buddies, and Uncle Harry playing golf again under a cloudless sky. Some folks will add some biblical images such as streets of gold and mansions that we’ll live in. And that’s about as far as many people think about what it’s like.

But one thing most people think is that this “heaven” is the ultimate destination. One day we’re going to join mom and dad, grandpa, and Uncle Harry, and that’s where we will carry on living forever.

With that perspective, Christianity then becomes a religion that’s all about showing people how to go to heaven when they die.

However, the actual teaching of scripture is much richer than that. It is my understanding that, when I die, my body will go to the grave but that the essential part of me — some call that my “spirit” or my “soul” — will still be alive and will rest in God’s care. Paul said to be absent from the body means to be at home with the Lord. He also said that when he died he would depart this life and be with Christ, which is a far better state than we know now. The book of Revelation pictures the saints before God’s throne, worshiping, watching the events of life unfolding, praying that God’s will will be done in this world. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be together with him that very day in paradise.

That is life after death. Our bodies rest in the grave. Our spirits rest in the care of God.

But that is just the first step! There is life after life after death. One day, Jesus said, those whose bodies rest in the graves will hear his voice and there will be a great resurrection. When Jesus appears and calls our names, our bodies will be raised up and made new. In 1Corinthians 15, Paul describes the new bodies we will have as glorious, imperishable, and powerful, in contrast to the humble, mortal, and frail bodies we now have.

And not only this. Our resurrection will be part of the transformation of all creation. Everything will be made new.

Revelation describes a scene in which heaven (God’s realm) comes down and becomes one with earth (our realm). As the hymn This Is My Father’s World says, “earth and heaven [will] be one.” God’s temple and throne will be restored in the world, and God himself will dwell in our midst in a whole new world, a whole new life.

This is the ultimate Christian hope. It’s not just about going to heaven when we die. It is about God in Christ making us and the whole world new: transforming us — body and spirit — transforming the earth, transforming the nations, transforming the entire universe through the final defeat of evil, sin, and death.

So, what we look forward to has two stages.

  • When we die, we experience life after death, resting in the paradise of God in his presence and care.
  • When Jesus returns, we will experience life after life after death — our bodies will be raised from the dead and we will be made whole again in a new creation where God will dwell with us, reigning in and through us.

The Sadducees who came to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson did not believe in the resurrection. Their conception of God’s kingdom was completely about this life now. They conceived of a Jewish king who would defeat his enemies and restore their political independence in the Promised Land. The life of the age to come to which they looked forward was all about security, material prosperity, long life, and a godly heritage of children and grandchildren to carry on after them.

Those of course are wonderful blessings, but Jesus challenges them to look beyond all of that, to imagine a new creation in which people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and people like us not only live through our descendants now, but also continue as people who are actually still alive in the presence of God, and who share fully in the life of the age to come.

We don’t have time to go into this right now, but it is this hope of a new creation that gives us motivation for living and serving now to make this world a better place. Jesus teaches that our good works are like seeds we plant that will come to fruition and create a great harvest of righteousness and peace in the age to come.

The Christian faith is the faith of resurrection. Life conquering death.

  • Resurrection now, as God makes us alive by grace through faith in Jesus Christ — As Paul tells the Romans: Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life.
  • Resurrection in the future, when Jesus returns and all those who now rest in God’s care will be made alive and all will be made new. As Paul says in Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.”

Lord, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.

And now may the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and may we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    The Gospel of the day was preached to us today and although a very good sermon was ours, it is enhanced by the message you give us today.
    Thank you CM.
    Blessings,
    Susan

  2. –> “The Christian faith is the faith of resurrection. Life conquering death.”

    Amen. The sacrifice and cross are all great for what they accomplished (established the new covenant), but it’s the post-cross VICTORY that is essential to our faith in Jesus.

  3. David Cornwell says

    Mike, thank you. There is so much confusion about Heaven and the hereafter that sometimes there is very little distinction from that held by popular culture and what Jesus teaches. I’ve had limited discussions with people but many times their mind will start to wander. I’m not sure how the teaching church has neglected this for so long. I guess it’s easier to drift with the easy tide.

    Hang on to this sermon; keep within easy reach!

  4. seems a whole lot of interest now in Iran as conservative Christians are attempting to proselytize in that Muslim country to establish a base. Problem: the Iranian gov’t is hostile to this movement.

    what seems even more interesting is that the people involved in this movement centered around Iran, are extremely focused on ‘end times’

    I’m not drawing a conclusion but when I put Iran, ‘end times’, and Christian far right together, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up

    is it possible that the ‘connection’ foreshadows geo-physical attempts to bring on the ‘end times’ and so further the return of Christ? With Trump at the helm and some really strange lady minister advising him . . . . . I don’t like the direction that line of thought tends to take, no. At least warmonger Bolton was sent packing. But at least he had SOME experience of the world. These are strange times.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      what seems even more interesting is that the people involved in this movement centered around Iran, are extremely focused on ‘end times’

      I’m not drawing a conclusion but when I put Iran, ‘end times’, and Christian far right together, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up

      As in “CHRISTIANS FOR NUCLEAR WAR (It’s Prophesied! It’s Prophesied!)”?

      (Casualty of The Gospel According to Hal Lindsay here. The above statement was NOT an exaggeration.)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Another factor in play:

      If your Eternal Destiny is Fluffy Cloud Heaven, what do you care if The World Burns?

      “It’s All Gonna Burn Anyway.”
      — standard Christianese comeback (now used against Creation Care)

      Add Rapture Eschatology and you get to watch it all as a Spectator Sport from your Heavenly Box Seat.

      “And I will be laughing as the world burns.”
      — some commenter in 2005 who got deleted

  5. Hey CM, we seem to be travelling parallel paths lately!
    First you visit a church where I play the organ in Lausanne.
    Then, shortly after you were in holiday in Tuscany, I was there as well (drove past Assisi as well, but didn’t stop there).
    And I recently read Surprised by Hope and gave my first sermon (in decades) on pretty much the same topic as you here.

    Blessings.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    But one thing most people think is that this “heaven” is the ultimate destination. One day we’re going to join mom and dad, grandpa, and Uncle Harry, and that’s where we will carry on living forever.

    How does that differ from Shades in Hades?
    Other than as a Shade you’d be constantly fading to nothing as you and the memory of you are forgotten?

  7. CM,

    Could you say which books/theologians/theology have influenced you to take this position? I’m assuming it’s
    similar to NT Wright and David Lawrence? Not asking to grill you, but genuinely curious.

    • “Life after life after death” is straight out of Surprised by Hope (though I guess others have used the expression).