One of the amazing stained-glass windows in our church is the triptych window of the Resurrection on the first Easter Sunday. It is a piece that takes its place in the gallery of Resurrection artwork across Christianity. Depictions and artwork that has graced the walls of catacombs of ancient Rome, as well as more formal works such as frescos, icons, illuminated manuscripts, altar pieces, Romanesque reliefs, sculptures and more. The Resurrection has been depicted by the great artists of the West: Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Annibale Carracci, Giotto, Titian, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, El Greco, Jan van Eyck, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
The fact of the Resurrection and the promise of our Resurrection are at the core of our Christian faith, life and hope. Maybe it is so much at the core and not the surface, we might not give it a lot of attention. Consider this: when was the last time you sat and contemplated, wondered about, reflected upon, or gave thought to the Resurrection of Jesus – or to the promise of our Resurrection. During the week, lots of people come to take a pause from the day and be still in the quiet of the church. The arrangement of the pews naturally faces us towards the altar and the Tabernacle. But not all the pews and chairs. If you sit over in the choir area, you come face-to-face with the Resurrection of Jesus. And sometimes in the wee hours of the night or early morning, that is where I will sit and consider this great mystery.
In our Gospel reading the Sadducees don’t consider the mystery of it. While large parts of Judaism hold to life after death via Resurrection, the Sadducees did not. It wasn’t mentioned or referenced in the first five books of the Old Testament, and so it was a novel idea of overactive minds. But if they did not believe in the Resurrection, does that mean they did not have Hope? Sure – even though they do not believe in resurrection, they have hope. But let’s be clear, they have no hope in themselves. Their hope exists solely in their children – as though there is some generational life after death but no personal life after death. Hope is there, but limited, finite, and in the end too easily extinguished.
How about the mother in the first reading from the Book of Maccabees? A foreign king wants to bend her obedience and loyalty away from God as King to himself as king. In the full rendering of the story, this mother has to watch all seven of her sons – her generation life after her death – be themselves put to death in the most gruesome of ways. But she gets to hear one of her sons testify to the Hope that sustains her and her children: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.” Not the hope that she has procreated, but the Hope that God gives – a hope that there is personal life after death. A Hope that gives rise to a heroic courage that mocks death and the supposed power of this earthly king.
I can almost hear the opening refrain of the English Poet John Dunne’s Holy Sonnet #10 “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” What is it about Hope that has such power that the poet can mock death? The mocking continues:
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
And then the poet speaks the deepest truth of Resurrection Hope:
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
It all begs the question – for each one of us – what fuels and drives Hope? Its there in the second reading: “God our Father, …has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace (2 Thess 2:16). Hope is the fruit of the love of God poured into our souls. So, unlike the Sadducees, we are to have hope within ourselves because we are loved by God.
Jesus tells the Sadducees that God. “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living” It was God’s love that brought them into the world, love that sustained them, and love that calls them home – and God who will raise them up into new life. Such is the power of love – and this Love is the root and foundation of our Hope.
Love and our life are rich earth that nurtures great trees. Our roots dig deep down in the soil for the nourishment and moisture. Our trunk and greenery grow out of the earth. Full and complete lives are rooted in the rich soil and loam of God’s love. And bear fruit in Hope. Hope that can be heroic. Hope that sees beyond today. Hope that spring forth from love as St Paul tells us: Love… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Cor 13:4,7-8) – not in life, not in death, not in the life beyond. Did the Sadducees love? Sure… but they it was as limited as their hope. Love was limited their experience of what love in this life could provide.
The question about Resurrection, even for us, is and always has been a question about hope and love. Will we be Sadducees and limit our experience of hope and love to what this world can provide, or will we be Maccabees and dare to radically hope in the promise of Resurrection and thus love without limit? Will we hold onto the promise that “God our Father, …has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace?”
It can begin anew here in our Eucharist, the deep and rich soil of love – let our roots drink deeply of the love that never fails. Let our Hope be heroic and sure that we may bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things with a Love that does not fail. It is the promise of Resurrection.