Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“In Your Flesh You Shall See God” (Job 19:25-27)
November 6, 2016
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Even if you have been living under a rock you undoubtedly know that after a 108-year drought, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series. Taken as a whole, game seven was the greatest baseball game I have ever seen—great pitching, gutsy base running, exceptional fielding, clutch hitting—as well as some errors and second guessing because baseball players of course are human too. The last time I was this blown away by a baseball game was in game six of the 1977 World Series when the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson hit three homeruns off three straight pitches against the Dodgers to lead the Yankees in clinching the championship.
All year long there had been a refrain in Chicago about the Cubs winning the World Series, “It’s Gonna Happen!” You saw it on signs, t-shorts, bumper stickers—“It’s Gonna Happen!” After the final out the other night someone in the crowd was holding up that same sign, but with one all-important change— “It’s Gonna Happen!” now read “It Did Happen!”
In the collect today we are reminded that Jesus “came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life” (The Book of Common Prayer 236). John records Jesus as proclaiming, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). One of the “works of the devil” that Jesus came to destroy was the power of death.
Today I am preaching on something we reaffirm we believe every week when we recite The Nicene Creed: “the resurrection of the dead”—“We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come” (BCP 358).
Scripture never turns a blind eye to suffering and death. The Book of Lamentations poignantly portrays corporate suffering in its description of the razing of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., and the Book of Job poignantly portrays individual suffering in recounting the miseries of Job.
Job had suffered massive financial loss as all his livestock were stolen or destroyed, severe personal loss as all his sons and daughters were killed in an accident, and subsequently found himself suffering from a severe disease, “loathsome sores” covering his body “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head,” sores he scraped with a potsherd as he sat among the ashes (Job 2:7-8).
To top it all off, Job’s wife gave him the following advice, “Curse God, and die” (2:9). Most of the Book of Job then consists of dialogue among Job, who was asking why he had to suffer so much, and his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, who were explaining to him that he must have done something to deserve it, to which Job eventually responded in anger, “miserable comforters are you all” (16:2). And yet, in the midst of all this we find one of the most moving passages in all of scripture about the resurrection of the dead, as Job proclaims:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (19:25-27).
“I know that my redeemer lives,” Job says, and “in my flesh I shall see God.” Job too looked for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Many people debunk the idea of the resurrection, of Jesus or anyone else. Over the past several years atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have sold many books along these lines. But this is nothing new. In today’s gospel lesson Jesus finds himself in a discussion with a group of religious leaders known as Sadducees who, as Luke notes, “say there is no resurrection,” which of course was the reason why, as a seminary professor once told me, the Sadducees were “sad, you see?” These Sadducees pose the following scenario for Jesus:
Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her (Luke 20:28-33).
One of the reasons this scenario sounds absurd is because it is. Since the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection, they were simply trying to make Jesus look foolish because Jesus taught about the resurrection. I have often wondered what the wedding would have looked like as each of these subsequent brothers, after their older brother died, was marrying this widow. Perhaps they trembled in fear as she came down the aisle, her evil smile perhaps communicating the ominous message, “You’re next.”
In response Jesus describes there not being marriage at all in heaven and then emphasizes the reality of the resurrection by hearkening back to Moses:
The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive (20:37-38).
Jesus emphasized to the cynical Sadducees that God is the God of the living, not the dead. And several times throughout his earthly ministry Jesus referred to his impending death…and resurrection. For example, this happened after his transfiguration—scripture tells us, “As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).
And after Jesus’ suffering and death he indeed was raised on the third day, just as he said. And scripture assures us that because of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, we too will be resurrected. The Apostle Paul underscores this repeatedly, as he wrote to the Romans: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11)—and to the 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 so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
And to the Corinthians:
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. As with Job, this gives us hope in the midst of our present sufferings. Along these lines, when I was a boy I remember hearing Bill Gaither’s beautiful 1970’s gospel classic “Because He Lives” in which he sings:
God sent his son
And they called him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my savior lives
Because he lives I can face tomorrow
Because he lives all fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
Life is worth the living
Just because he lives
When I was studying at Trinity School for Ministry several years ago I became friends with the Rev. Dr. Martha Giltinan, who was Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and one of the brightest, funniest, most down to earth people I ever met—and a winsome preacher too. The last time I saw her was in January 2014 and along with several others from Trinity we all laughed over a long dinner. Shortly after moving to Valdosta I heard through the grapevine that she had been stricken with leukemia. One afternoon we spoke on the phone for a while, a life-giving conversation as always, but even though neither of us admitted it, we both knew it would likely be our last conversation this side of eternity. And yet, Martha was in even better spirits—“Death has no dominion over me,” she said.
Martha died on December 12, 2014. But in the months before her death as she suffered at hospitals in Pittsburgh and later her hometown of Boston, her faith in Jesus Christ and belief in the resurrection were so inspiring that doctors and nurses and other hospital staff would congregate in her room and listen to her talk. “Death has no dominion over me” was her refrain as she shared the reality of her faith in Jesus Christ, that because he lives she could face tomorrow. Many of those who listened to her either converted to Christ or returned to church.
And the good news of the gospel is that death has no dominion over you either. Your Redeemer lives. In your flesh you shall see God. Because he lives you can face tomorrow.
C.S. Lewis gives us a slight glimpse of what heaven may be like at the end of The Last Battle, the seventh volume of his series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The children Peter, Edmund, and Lucy find themselves in the Narnian equivalent of heaven, puzzled about where they are. Aslan, the majestic lion and Christ-like figure in the story, asks them, “Have you not guessed?” C. S. Lewis continues:
Their hearts leapt, and a wild hope rose within them. “There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
You can look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, because in your flesh you shall see God—in heaven, where “It’s Gonna Happen!” will be eternally changed into “It Did Happen!”