Jesus was always confronted with those who wanted to trip him up. The folk with the trick questions were trying to get him to identify himself with the Saddusees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The Pharisees did. If he agreed with the logic of the Sadducees, then the Pharisees could condemn him. If he refuted the Sadducees then they could condemn him. In short, they intended to have Jesus in a "lose-lose" situation.
It reminds us of those who argue with God. It comes up most frequently around stewardship issues. "Is the tithe before or after taxes?" "Does giving to the symphony count?" A judge said about those who argue or try to be legalistic with God, "They are fools; when you go into God's court, he has both the law and the facts on his side, your only hope is to throw yourself on the mercy of the court."
Jesus did not get trapped in the legalistic question. Instead, he used it to teach something about God and something about heaven and relationships in heaven.
First, Jesus tells about the nature of heaven. It is a place where we will not be married. The gift of marriage is for this world. In heaven we will be God's children. One priest, in an effort to be gender neutral, described this as "siblinghood in Christ." One man in describing what he expected about family relations with those who are in Christ and who will be in heaven said it this way: "I have a wonderful marriage. We were childhood friends. We have never not known each other. Our life together has been happy and productive. I can't imagine my life without her. But as wonderful as our life in marriage has been, someday the marriage will end. One of us will die. But that death will mark the beginning of our real relationship, our permanent relationship. My real relationship with her is not that she is my lifelong friend and wife, but that she is my sister in Christ. I am her brother in Christ. I am very fortunate. I have the same relationship with my parents. My permanent relationship with my father is that he is my brother in Christ. I have the same relationship with my mother. I have the same relationship with my children."
Now the wonderful set of permanent relationships this man describes is not of his own making. He did not choose his parents. In a deep sense, he did not choose his wife. In fact, he describes her as a "gift." His children are a gift. They are all gifts from God. The line in the Gospel that describes God and his relationship to this gift of relationships is, "Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive."
God intends for all of us that he made to be in relationship with him and each other forever. We are always alive in the mind of God.
So what about death? Death is real. Sometimes we behave as if death were not going to touch us or touch those whom we love. But we know better. There is a kind of irony in hearing that to God we are alive but at the same time knowing that we will die.
We Christians have dealt with death and sin in the same ways. We sense that we are made by God for love and relationship and yet shattered relationships and brokenness are ever part of our lives. In the Catechism on page 848 in the Book of Common Prayer, the question "what is sin" is answered this way: "Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God." The consequences of this is that we move ourselves out of the way God has made for us and made us to be, into a state of separation from his life and love. The ultimate sign of sin and separation is death. Death is the end of love and life in this world.
When marriage ends in divorce, we sometimes say, "the marriage is dead." Frequently we describe the breaking or shattering of relationship in terms we normally associate with death. Any shattering of a relationship is a sin and it is a death. Any sin threatens relationships, whether or not it ends the relationship depends on love and forgiveness.
God not only knows us as alive but he is constantly calling us to life. He calls us find life in being what he made us to be.
We return to what God made us to be when we repent after having done something that shatters either our relationship with God or with someone else.
Those of us who are on the receiving end of a shattering experience have some work to do also. Repentance isn't complete until someone expresses forgiveness and love.
One priest described a process of shattering repentance and forgiveness that he observed in this way: "A man went on a business trip. He betrayed his wife. She discovered it when she had to seek treatment for a social disease that he gave her. She was angry. She came for guidance. After counsel and prayer she decided what she would do. She said, 'I can't say it doesn't matter because that would say that the marriage doesn't matter. I don't want to divorce, I love him and feel compelled to forgive him. What I want to do is have him listen to me in your presence how much he hurt me.' The husband agreed to this. The experience was terribly painful for both of them. But he was repentant. She was anxious to forgive. The marriage came back to life. " Only those who have sinned repented and know the love of God can have thecourage to grow into the life that God is. For those who do not know, this process of repentance and forgiveness, the love of God remains unknown. For them, death is the end.
But for those of us who have sinned, been offered repentance, and have experienced the lavish love of God, death is not the end, but rather a door or passage into a larger life. We come to know ourselves as God knows us. We become more alive in the way that God makes us alive. We enter a realm where relationships can be alive forever.