Throughout the Bible there are two locations, two realms, two dimensions that define the relationship between God and humanity. And those two locations are, of course, heaven and earth. The very first verse of the Bible in the Book of Genesis announces that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The very end of the Bible in the Book of Revelation describes a climatic vision in which God restores and recreates a new heaven and a new earth. And in between the beginning of the Book of Genesis and the end of the Book of Revelation, there are 31,102 verses of Holy Scripture, and what we find is that these two locations, two realms, two dimensions – heaven and earth – are the primary focal points of the entire story of the Bible.
Now we typically think of heaven as God’s space and earth as our space. We tend to think of heaven in spiritual terms and earth in material terms. We think of heaven as where we go when we die and earth as where we live and work and do all the stuff that is part of our daily lives. But at some point, I think we find ourselves wrestling with the question – What is the relationship between earth and heaven? What is the relationship between our space and God’s space? What is the relationship between life here and life there?
And when we find ourselves struggling to understand the relationship between heaven and earth, our default “mode of operation” is to start with our own experience. In other words, we typically start from an earthly perspective. We take our categories, our experiences, and our cultural paradigms, and we project those onto our interpretations of heaven. One of the most common examples of this kind of projection is when I get asked the question, “Will my pets go to heaven?” The whole basis of that question is rooted in our earthly perspective. The question is predicated on our experience, the way we think of the world. Now, I am not saying that your pets don’t go to heaven. Please don’t leave here and say, “Fr. Doug told us our pets don’t go to heaven.” I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that the question itself is based on our own categories and experiences and cultural paradigms.
Our starting point is our earthly experience. We do this all the time! And in today’s gospel reading, I think this is precisely the mistake that is made by the group of religious leaders called the Sadducees.
The story in today’s gospel reading is sort of Luke’s version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, except in Luke’s version there is just one bride, who becomes the wife of seven brothers, after each one successively dies. As I mentioned, the main characters are Sadducees, who were a group of Jewish religious leaders who denied the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees basically rejected any belief in a spiritual realm and that, of course, explains why they were so sad, you see (groan)!
So, the Sadducees come to Jesus with what they think is the perfect trick question. “If one woman marries seven brothers in this life, who wife will she be in the life to come?” Jesus responds to the Sadducees by saying, “Your question is based on a fundamentally wrong assumption!” You are assuming that resurrection life, life in the age to come, life in the heavenly realm is essentially just like this life. You’re assuming that what is come is essentially “more of the same.” Jesus is saying, “No, resurrection life is qualitatively different!” All of the things that are the markers of our earthly journey – marriage, children, retirements, our jobs, our possessions – none of those things characterize our life in the age in to come, because life in the age to come is not merely an extension of this life, but something wholly and fundamentally different!
Now let me very clear – Jesus didn’t say that we won’t know or recognize our families. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still around, and they are still Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.He is not saying that is no sense of continuity or connection between this life and the next.
What Jesus is saying is that everything, including our relationships will be transformed and will be different in the life to come! The promise of resurrection, the promise of abundant and eternal life with God, is not just our “Life on Earth 2.0” – but rather the promise of resurrection life is the promise of an entirely new reality in which all things are made new.
And so, at first glance, the challenge of today’s gospel reading is to no longer be limited by the categories and experiences that shape our life here on earth. But I think that this challenge goes ever deeper. Because, not only is Jesus calling us to not be limited to our earthly perspective, but he us calling us to change our perspective altogether. To make our starting point the reality of heaven and the promise of resurrection life. To make our starting point the reality of the kingdom of God. To make our starting point the reality that God is the God of the living and not the dead.
Imagine what would happen if we stopped trying to figure out heaven in terms of earth and started trying to figure out earth in terms of heaven. Imagine what would happen if we started to look at this present life through the lens of the life to come. Imagine what would happen if the life of the kingdom, the life of resurrection, became the paradigm through which we viewed the world.
My friends, Jesus came to show us an entirely new way of looking at the world. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus revealed to us a vision of the reign of God.
A vision of justice and peace.
A vision of reconciliation and healing.
A vision of mercy and forgiveness.
A vision of abundance and grace.
And he sent his disciples into the world as ambassadors, as representatives of the kingdom of God. We are called to be a people who no longer see the world from an earthly perspective, but to see the world from a heavenly perspective and to work for the vision of heaven to be made manifest on earth.
I mean, isn’t that what we pray for every Sunday when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Every Sunday, we are declaring that there is a kingdom reality, a resurrection reality, that is a reality of justice and healing and reconciliation. And then we are praying that that reality will be manifested and made real here on earth, in our lives and in our world.
Like the Sadducees before us, we too often find ourselves trying to figure out heaven in terms of earth instead of trying to figure out earth in terms of heaven.
Jesus is calling us to change our perspective.
To see the world in a new way.
To see our families, our communities, our workplaces, our schools, and our neighborhoods, through the lens of the kingdom of God.
To see God’s promise of justice and healing and reconciliation even when everything and everyone around us seems to be painting a very different picture.
And to answer that call, to change our perspective, to see a new world, may our prayer this morning be, “Come, Lord Jesus, open my eyes!”