The readings in The Episcopal Church for this coming Sunday are:
The one theme that clearly sings out for me through these lections is resurrection. In this case, it’s not The Resurrection of Jesus, but the promise of resurrection for every one of us. This is a powerful lesson to hear, right on the heels of the Feast of All Saints. We were just reminded this past Sunday of the amazing cloud of witness of the Communion of Saints – which includes all Christians, those who have gone before us, those who are alive now, and those who are yet to be born. And this coming Sunday, we will be reminded that the resurrection has been promised to us, because we believe in Jesus.
In the gospel lesson, the Good and Upright Citizens are playing a game of Stump-the-Prophet with Jesus. Those in power in his time had a great time challenging him with legalistic questions, trying to trip him up, often taking their questions and interpretations to places we might consider absurd in their quest to Stump the Prophet. And this one certainly is absurd – what woman would really allow herself to be married off to seven men in sequence in this way, much less seven brothers? And Jesus is awesome, because he refuses to play the game, at least by the rules of the League of Good and Upright Citizens. Instead, he turns their questions and challenges on their heads, and every single time, he brings them back to love. While his response in this passage does not explicitly use the word love, you can feel the tenderness, especially if you read it aloud to yourself. We will be like angels. We will be children of God. To God, we will always be alive. In this world, marriage is really about property, about assuring that one’s belongings are retained within the family rather than being looted or stolen or taken by the government. But in God’s kingdom, marriage is unnecessary. In God’s kingdom, possessions are unimportant. We do not grasp for belongings, for stuff. We are loved infinitely. We are tenderly cared for. We are filled with everything we need – filled with the things that are real.
The psalm appointed for this week intrigued me at first, in conjunction with the gospel lesson. While Jesus reminds us that we will be resurrected to join God in God’s kingdom, this psalm is a prayer asking God to remember us, a prayer for protection from our enemies – and from The Enemy. It contains one of the most beautiful passages from the service of Compline (Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings) and ends with a statement of confidence, that after we die and awake in God’s kingdom, we will see God’s face. So why do we need to pray this prayer? Just a couple weeks ago, we had a set of readings about persisting in prayer, even when there doesn’t seem to be an answer from God. But we know that God does not need to be reminded of us. God knows every sparrow in the trees, every blade of grass in the fields, every hair on every head of every person who has ever lived. God knows we are here. God knows what is in our hearts. God loves us and aches for us to join God in eternal life. So what’s the point of praying this prayer?
Okay, so I don’t have a great answer to that question. But I do know that prayer opens us up, makes us vessels ready to receive God’s grace. And I think that when we pray this prayer (Remember me, God, please. I am here, doing my best. And I believe in you. I trust you. I love you. I know you will bring me to live with you. Remember me, God, please.), we are open to assurances like the one in the reading from Job. We are open to the gift knowing, down to the deepest core of our being, that our Redeemer lives, that in our flesh we shall see God. And this is a grace, because it is completely unearned, completely undeserved. We cannot earn a place in God’s kingdom – it is freely given to us by the God who loves us completely, profigately, scandalously.
Which brings me to the Thessalonians reading. It is a lovely prayer, a blessing on us, and another reminder of God’s scandalous love. So this week, our readings are a love note to us from God.
My dearest children,
I am here. I am your Creator. I have known you and treasured you since the moment you were conceived. I will always be here to care for you, to protect you when you are in danger, to light your path when the way becomes dark. You are made in my image, and you are a unique and wonderful child. And though right now you live in a flawed world, where there are strife and wickedness and temptation, when you have come to the end, I will bring you to me. You will see my face. You will know, as you have never known before, how perfectly and completely you are loved. I will clothe you in shining robes and give you living water to drink. And you will live with me, in peace and love and harmony with the entire communion of saints, forever.
Your loving Father and Mother,
So my wish to you this week comes straight from our epistle: may your heart be comforted and strengthened in every good work and word, by the hope of the resurrection promised to us by the eternally and scandalously loving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.