What will it be like?
November 11, 2007 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 20:27–20:38
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
"What Will It Be Like?"
I'd like to begin this message by playing for you a song by a Christian singing group called "MercyMe." The song is entitled "I Can Only Imagine."
I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by Your side...
I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me...
I can only imagine.
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine when that day comes and I find myself standing in the Son...
I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship You...
I can only imagine. (©1999 MercyMe)
What will it be like - when "in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:26b-27). What will it be like at "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 2:1)? What will it be like at the resurrection? "What Will It Be Like?" - that's the theme before us in today's Scripture lessons. May the Lord's rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.
For many of us, we are so busily invested in this world that we often don't stop and think about the world to come. We become so wrapped up in day-to-day living that it takes something like a major illness or the death of a loved one to shake us out of our routine, reminding us that this life is a dress-rehearsal for eternal life. Certainly Job, that figure of suffering and patience from today's first reading (Job 19:23-27a) knew from personal experience what this was about! In these closing weeks of the church year, there is a focus on the end of all things and the return of Christ in glory. Appropriately, this comes in autumn when the natural world is dying back - a reminder of our own mortality. When our mortality gives way to immortality, when death gives way to life, when earth gives way to heaven, what will it be like?
Jesus tells us what it won't be like. In today's Gospel lesson (Luke 20:27-38), Jesus is being set up by his opponents. The party of the Sadducees, one of the groups within Judaism at the time of Jesus, who did not believe in the resurrection, ironically ask him a question about the resurrection. It's one of those hypothetical "What if?" questions that get under our skin, but when it comes to thinking about resurrection and the life to come, all of us think about these kinds of questions. Jesus is clear: the patterns of life here on earth do not carry over into that resurrected life which is his gift to us. The whole question of whether people are married in heaven is from earth, not heaven: "... those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35). One of the primary purposes of marriage is the procreation of life because of human mortality. If in the new age, people no longer die, then marriage becomes a moot point. What will it be like - that age which is to come and the resurrection from the dead? Perhaps that opening song by MercyMe really does capture it best: "I can only imagine." Because we are human beings, because we are so very earth-bound, we can only imagine. We do get hints from Scripture about what this will be like: that the dead in Christ will be raised first, and at the sound of God's trumpet, the Lord will descend from heaven, and those who are alive will be caught up in the clouds together with those who have died in Christ, and that we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Further, Scripture describes how God will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more death; mourning and crying and pain will be no more (Revelation 21:4). That's hard to imagine because it is so different from what we know on earth. Because God's Word is truth, we put our trust there, even if we cannot completely understand or grasp it. And we hold fast to it.
The truth of that Word is that it reveals a God who is God of the living, not of the dead, "for to him all of them are alive" (Luke 20:38) - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, together with all of God's saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus. They are alive in a new and beautiful way that transcends human understanding. Those considered worthy of a place in that age to come are worthy not because of who they are or what they have done; quite the opposite. This worthiness comes from outside us; it is because of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us that makes us worthy to enter eternal life. By his suffering and death, he has destroyed the power of death. By his resurrection, he has opened to us the gate of everlasting life. When we stand by the death bed or the graveside of loved ones, it is this saving truth that makes all the difference. When we ourselves breathe our last, we do so trusting in Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life.
What will it be like? Neither I nor anyone else cannot fully describe that resurrection life. What we see only in a mirror dimly now, by God's amazing grace, we shall see face-to-face and know fully and completely that abundant life which Jesus came to bring. Amen.