Incarnation Gets Real and Stares Death in the Face

Memento mori – “remember that you will die.” In a Christian community this doesn’t have to be such a scary thought.

This past Sunday our Incarnation House Church got real with a Bible study focusing on mortality and death. Jesus hand delivered us the topic during our Bible study on the gospel of Luke. In the passage, the Sadducees, a devout Jewish sect that practiced very holy living much like the Pharisees, try to trip Jesus up with a question about the resurrection from the dead. One major difference between the Sadducees and the Pharisees was that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead but the Pharisees did.

The Sadducee’s question sounds like the set-up to either a logic puzzle or an off-color joke: A man with six brothers dies leaving a widow but no children. His brother marries his wife and he dies, too, leaving no children. All seven brothers marry the woman, but none of them has any children… There is no punchline (you can, perhaps, supply your own), but the Sadducees go on to ask Jesus, “If all seven brothers and the poor woman who outlived them are supposed to be resurrected in the afterlife, who will the woman be married to then?”
Jesus doesn’t suffer fools. He says that no one will be married in the afterlife but that we’ll be like angels. What he references but doesn’t say is that angels have no need to procreate, so they don’t need to be married. But Jesus goes one step further and points out that the Sadducees are wrong about resurrection because of this one thing: God declares himself to be the God of the living not the dead. And what’s the evidence for this? When God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, he introduces himself as the God of his ancestors–of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If he is their God, they can’t be dead, which means they must be resurrected. Check and mate.
Resurrection of the Flesh (c. 1500) by Luca Signorelli – based on 1 Corinthians 15: 52: “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto.
Jesus did not shy from talking about death the way we sometimes do. The more we don’t talk about death the more fearful it becomes. So we did what bold Christians do and we stared death in the face. No, we didn’t go skydiving together, we opened our prayer books and talked about our own funerals. One of the gifts of the Book of Common Prayer is that our prayers say exactly what we believe to be true about God and ourselves as God’s creation. In the case of death, we say these beautiful anthems at the very beginning of the burial service:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 491)
The Burial of the Dead is a an Easter liturgy, according to the Book of Common Prayer, “which finds all its meaning in the resurrection.”

What unfolded was a beautiful conversation about death, the afterlife, and the impossible thought of our resurrected bodies. We talked about theology and the Bible, and we made room for our fears, questions, and even doubts. What stands out to me is not the solace we find in our prayers but the depth of faith revealed in our questions.

What does it mean to be a church of spiritual depth? It means tackling the realities of life and death and taking seriously the anxieties that often accompany our faith. Two months ago this depth was the aspiration of a church not yet gathered, but week by week it becomes a reality. We may fear death even with the assurance of faith, but as a Christian community we never have to stand in that fear alone. Thanks be to God.

Leave a Reply