THE RESURRECTION HOPE

Sermon delivered on the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity (3rd Before Advent) the 6th November 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes in the St. Alban’s congregation of the Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Job 19: 23-27a     2 Thess 2: 1-5, 13-17     S. Luke 20: 27-38

S. Luke 20:37 (quoting the Lord Jesus) “That the dead are raised, even Moses showed ...” for “... he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.”

THE NEW AGE OF RESURRECTION
Jesus was often engaged in arguments with the scholars of His time and His nation. Here He argues from the very nature of the eternal God, who forms relationships with His children, that there is a resurrection to life. The Scriptures speak of this general resurrection to life in a variety of ways. It is a new age that is seen as different in its rules of time and space than the present physical universe; also, it is depicted as a “last day” or “day of the Lord” which one day our present world will itself witness. In whatever way we perceive it, the actual Resurrection of our Lord Himself on the third day of His death bears witness to us of the reality of the general resurrection to life. That unique event, the Resurrection of our Lord, can be thought of as a joining up of the “last day” and the new age of heaven with our own space and time of the physical universe that we occupy. Through faith in Him who died and rose again we too, because of that joining-up, may enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Our canticle the “Te Deum Laudamus” declares of the Lord Jesus, “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.”

THE CHURCH IN THE AGE OF SECULARISM
In our second lesson from 2 Thessalonians the doctrine of the “day of the Lord” teaches of a new age that will come only after a time of rebellion in the world. According to St. Paul there will be apostasy and lawlessness, “the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” In the days of emperor-worship in the Roman Empire, there was an attempt to put an image of Caesar in the Jewish temple, and even in pre-Roman times there were attempts to place Gentile images and symbols there. In more recent times just in the 1930s, the Hitler programme for the German National Church intended to proscribe all pastors, chaplains and priests in favour of National Reich orators, the Bible was forbidden to be published or disseminated, all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of saints were to be cleared away from altars, where there was to be nothing but Hitler’s own Mein Kampf, and to the left of the altar a sword. The Christian Cross was to be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels, and it had to be superseded by what was described as the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika. And that wheel of history turns once more: the modern laws and conventions of man are claimed by many to possess without limitation a God-like authority in man’s affairs. St. Paul’s words about the son of perdition opposing and exalting himself without limitation from theological hindrance could easily describe the radical secularism of modern times. This declares that a thing that becomes justified by the laws, constitutions and conventions that derive from anti-theistic secularism must be judged to be right and proper even if it is instinctively, out of a religious past, seen by a wide number to be quite problematical. In our Western world we are rarely any longer encouraged to look to Christian revelation to judge what is right or wrong, but rather to laws and constitutions and conventions that defer to no higher authority than themselves; still for now, not quite all will bow. It is now very much the church’s duty to see that this remaining popular insight is underpinned, strengthened and made whole by the godly revelation handed down to us from the apostles. St Paul said, “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” The church must know that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, and the truth of the Gospel that must be believed in, and we must teach what is right and what is wrong on this basis of revelation rather than on merely human constructs. “So then, brethren,” says St. Paul to his own generation, “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” We are called as the church of our own generation to stand firm in this same way, forming an obstacle in our community to the advance of anti-theistic secularism, and providing the necessary witness to God as He commands us. The silver thread of the apostolic witness and teaching that we hold out to men and women in this age through the perils of secularism will one day lead some to their destiny at the day of the Lord.

PATIENCE IN THIS AGE, REWARD IN THE NEXT
Modern Christians have sometimes joined up with atheists in becoming dismissive of the idea of “pie in the sky when you die”, and when this happens the resurrection age becomes less taught in terms of a living reality. The focus then of this form of Christian teaching is on how the faith affects the here and now, and what the benefits are to us here and now of possessing the faith. Certainly there are such benefits, but when we compare this approach with Jesus’ teaching (as in today's Gospel) and the apostolic teaching, we see that it is incomplete. It is more important to take a place in the eternal kingdom, in the Scriptural view, than to receive rest and comfort in this age. The Beatitudes clearly teach, for instance, that those who set their sights unambiguously on the age to come will expect to suffer in this age. For the reward of that age, patience and endurance are necessary in this age. Actually, we should never have forgotten such lessons, because they are mirrored in our own age itself. We have only to consider whether there is any great goal or prize in our earthly life worth striving for that does not entail self-sacrifice and patience and, often, suffering. So if we know that to be true for the prizes of this life, how much more must it be true for the greatest reward of all?

JOB’S HOPE OF A NEW AND DIFFERENT AGE
“Oh that my words were written!” cries Job. “Oh that they were inscribed in a book!” Well, what may have originally been oral accounts of a suffering and patient Job did eventually find written form in our own Bible. Because of that, what was spoken of and thought about in past millennia become live for us now, and in many ways the struggles and the sufferings that may have seemed so meaningless at the time for the Job of their experience are perceived through our own eyes as justified. In the end those struggles led him to a vision of God, in whose communion he became satisfied without the need for self-vindication. They teach us too that the need even for justice, which is often so frustrated on earth, can be transformed by the satisfaction of God’s grace being poured out upon us. The dissatisfied and struggling Job of the Old Testament age wants his words to be written so that they survive into what with a great lifting of faith he believes will be a future vindication. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth.” The word “redeemer” here translates a word that is probably more accurately rendered “vindicator”. Job has faith that there will be a future in which he is vindicated, and in which God will be seen as a Friend rather than as an unfathomable and even malignant stranger. James Moffatt translates the passage this way: “Still, I know One to champion me at last, to stand up for me upon earth. This body may break up, but even then my life shall have a sight of God; my heart is pining as I yearn to see him on my side, see him estranged no longer.” Such words show that even from very ancient times, the hope of a new and different age from the present one was alive. These were wise thoughts, and they are fulfilled in the actuality of the resurrection age which Jesus and the apostles declare to us. This may sometimes be the only thing that enables a person of our own time to survive its injustices and disappointments and struggles. It is the lack of this certain hope of a new and different age that can cause people, whether old or young, to think of suicide as a way out of their present troubles.

THE FINAL VINDICATION AND FULFILMENT OF RELATIONSHIPS
“He is not God of the dead, but of the living”, Jesus said. The dead are raised, and the new age of the resurrection, which is the new age of the last day, is a reality. The true God who is our God now will be our God then. The relationships that we have formed in Him now will continue then, but taken up to the highest of all possible levels. Those who receive this greatest of all possible prizes will see all their relationships transformed and fulfilled. Marriage will be so transformed, because there is no dying and no bearing of children, that it is subsumed into the greater relationship that will exist among the children of God, and into the supreme nuptials, so to speak, of Christ and His Bride, the Church. With Job we shall be finally vindicated, because in Christ, God will finally and irrevocably be seen to be our Friend and Lover, we shall finally and irrevocably be seen as beloved by Him, and to be His own true friends, and amongst one another we shall be found in the purest and fullest love and friendship. Actually, it is a destiny that nobody in his right mind can afford to miss.

QUESTIONS

1. If our Lord’s Resurrection joins up the “last day” and the present age, how does this affect the way we view the “means of grace” of the Church - the sacraments?

2. How would you defend the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead against the charge of escapism?

3. Can the “Communion of Saints” provide a vision that can turn the tide of secularism?