Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
This morning our theme in the lectionary is The Disciplines of Christian Life. In our Gospel passage, we are focusing on the discipline of looking expectantly for the resurrection. The basic thrust of the passage is that all those who have passed on who belonged to God are still alive.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian explains some insight into why the Sadducees thought there was no resurrection. They believed that the only reason for a resurrection, was so that people could believe that they would be rewarded for what they did in this life. They believed that they should do good without any thought of reward. Which is a good thing, we must serve God and do good without our desire being the reward, but it misses the reality that we will be alive to God forever.
Some have pointed out that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was not as clearly laid out in the First Testament as it is to us in the Second Testament. Therefore, while we recognise that the Sadducees were wrong, we must be careful not to lay our judgement upon them.
However, we must never even contemplate the idea of no resurrection, for our Saviour has stated that He is the resurrection and the life. We also have the testimony of St. Paul and others in the Second Testament. As St. Cyril of Alexandria sums it up,
We believe in him who says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He will raise the dead suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, and at the last trumpet. It shall sound, the dead in Christ shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For Christ our common Saviour will transfer us into incorruption, glory and to incorruptible life.1
What is meant by being like the angels in heaven and are not given in marriage? First of all, we know that God isn’t rejecting marriage, for he instituted it. However, St. Augustin points out a very practical reason of why there would be no marriage in the resurrection. In our glorified bodies, we do not grow old and decay, but endure forever. There won’t be one generation succeeding another generation and won’t be need for marriage to bring about another generation.
Clement of Alexandria points out that it isn’t marriage that our Lord is rejecting, but that we shouldn’t expect the same physical desires in the resurrection. Whether it be marriage or other desires. We will be changed and what all that entails we have very little idea.
In this life, virgins or probably more in our terminology, those who have committed to serving God in singleness, are worthy of a great honour. They have begun already to live in the glory of the resurrection. What we all will be, they have already begun, St. Cyprian tells us. He concludes by saying,
You pass the world without the pollution of the world. While you remain chaste and virgins, you are equal to the angels of God.2
I think there may be some who are reading this who have made a commitment to serve God in singleness, but even if you haven’t you probably know someone that has. If you do know someone that has made such a commitment, please give them honour. They are living in the manner of angels and are bringing a bit of the resurrected life before your eyes.
While this passage is speaking specifically about a hypothetical situation. There is also a mystical or spiritual truth here. The Fathers see this woman with the seven husbands speaking figuratively of the synagogue of the Jews. They had Moses, they kept the law, but were not able to have offspring. Now Christ the resurrection has come, and he has raised up the seed in the Apostles. Through the apostles a church has been born out of the one who was childless.
This prophecy in Haggai is given to Joshua the high priest among others. Tertullian points out to us the dress of high priest and how it reminds us of the second coming of Christ and the resurrection.
In the next place, he was stripped of his former solid raiment and adorned with a garment down to the foot, and with a turban and a clean mitre, that is [with the garb] of the second advent; since he is demonstrated as having attained glory and honour.3
We see here in this passage prophecies concerning our high priest Jesus Christ and his two advents or his two comings. The fathers interpret this shaking of the earth in at least two ways and both have to do with the two advents of Christ.
First, we see the beginning of the fulfillment of the shaking in the birth of Christ. God set the heavens rocking, when He broke through them with a star and angels as a witness to His son’s birth. He moved the order of earthly things when gave Christ a virgin birth.
Second, we continue to see the earth shaken today. We see this as Christ’s name is proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The seas and dry land are providing the path to be used for the evangelism of the world. Finally, the passage states that the treasures of all nations will come in. This refers to his second coming. For before the world can await him and desire his coming, it must first believe in Him. This is where we are today. We get to be a part of bringing the news of Christ so that others can believe.
A second interpretation of this shaking is that it is figurative. There have been radical transformations of life in the course of the history of the world. These are the two major covenants in the history of the world. The first transitioned the world from idols to the law and the second from the law to the gospel. The gospel also tells us of a third shaking. This will take us from this present age to the one that will come. It is the resurrection that will come.
In the Psalm reading, we see that praise is to be done today and forever. We must purpose each and every day to praise the Lord. We must build it into our lives as a daily discipline, so that we come to the day without end, to the day of the resurrection, we will be in the habit of praising the Lord.
In verse four, King David mentions one generation and the next. St. Augustin tells us this refers to our current generation where we are the sons of God. The next generation refers to the day, the life of the resurrection where we are children of the resurrection. By this, we understand that David’s prophecy states that there will always be praise both in this life and in the next.
Looking at the second part of the Psalm reading, we see that the Lord is near to those who call upon Him. The fathers explain that this isn’t a carte blanche statement that if we call upon the Lord, we can live however we want. No, part of our calling on the Lord, means that our lives do not contradict our prayers. We must do the will of God and pray, if we wish to see answers to our prayers and be raised up at the last day.
Our theme in the lectionary for our epistle reading is to hold on the traditions of true faith. One of these traditions is that we don’t know the exact date of our Lord’s return, or the resurrection. The fathers tell us that this is a good thing, extending it also to the fact that we don’t know the date of our death either.
If we knew when the final day of the earth or our lives, it would very likely change the way that we live. We might begin to forget the necessity of waiting expectantly for his return and begin to live in a way to please only ourselves. The plight of the lost might diminish on our radar and think there is still time for others to go and share with them. When we know the day, the urgency of keeping short accounts may begin to diminish.
While we don’t know the exact day of our Lord’s return, we do know some of the other details. We know that apostasy must first come, the lawless one must be revealed, and that Jesus and all the saints will appear at that time. Let us then not bemoan the fact that we don’t know the exact date but let us look forward in readiness and anticipation for that great day.
How do we rightly await his coming? It is not in our asserting that the return is near, nor to assert that is not near that we rightly await his coming. (There are people who believe it is so imminent that they are predicting exact dates, and we have others who are so disillusioned by such statements that they think it is long distant.)
However, the correct way to await his coming and to love his coming, is by keeping a sincere faith, firm hope, and ardent love. As we mentioned, when discussing the psalm reading, practices must be learned daily. We must each day, throughout each day remind ourselves that we are earnestly awaiting the coming of the Lord. We must ask ourselves are we living in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Are we doing anything that is needlessly offensive to our friends and family? Are we seeking to be constantly and fully reconciled to those around us? And so on and so forth.
In the second part of the epistle reading, we are instructed to hold fast to the traditions that were taught. What does this mean practically? St. Cyril of Jerusalem points out that not everyone has the time nor the education to read and know the Scriptures, what is such a one to do? He is to memorise the creed. The creed is one of the traditions that has been handed down to us. It sums up the faith for everyone, but especially is helpful for those who are illiterate or unlearned in the Christian faith. The most important parts of our faith are collected in the creeds for quick reference.
Let us then hope expectantly for the resurrection. We must put any thought from our minds that in the resurrection we have the same physical desires that we have now. Furthermore, we must give honour to virgins or those who have committed their lives to serve God in singleness.
Let us also look eagerly for the final shaking when Christ from heaven shall return. As we wait let us be eager to spread his good news of salvation that all might wait in expectation for his return. We must build into our lives the discipline of praising the Lord daily so that it will be a part of us when we rise in the final day. Let us look to our lives and determine that they will match our prayers.
We must keep a sincere faith, firm hope, and ardent love in awaiting the return of our Saviour. Finally, let us familiarise ourselves with the creeds and the other traditions of the church, that our faith might be strengthened and our anticipation will be increased for the day of resurrection.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
~ Fr. Matthew
1 Thomas C. Oden and Arthur A. Just Jr., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old Testament XIV (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 313
2 Ibid, 313
3 Thomas C. Oden and Alberto Ferreiro, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament IX (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 225
Souls Being Carried Up to Heaven, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57195 [retrieved March 20, 2020]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:De_Grey_Hours_f.188.v_The_raising_of_souls_to_Heaven.png.