Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Until We Are Parted By Death

Until we are parted by death. That’s kind of a downer, isn’t it? The church is full of family and friends. The bride looks as beautiful as she ever has. The groom is so excited his knees are shaking. Both mothers are crying, and any of the grandfathers who can still hear what’s going on are proud to be there. Then the clergyperson asks the groom to take the bride’s right hand in his right hand and repeat after him, saying the vows. And then, right at the end, he looks into the eyes of his bride on the cusp of a brand new chapter in their relationship—so much promise ahead—and says, “until we are parted by death.” I can hear the air hissing out of the balloon.

Marriage is for a lifetime and only for a lifetime. Some of us are relieved to hear it. Some of us can’t imagine spending eternity without being married to the one we love. Why? Why, as Jesus says in Luke 20:27-40, do “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?” Being married seems like a jolly good thing. And some of us are married to pretty nice people—people we would probably enjoy spending even more than a lifetime with. And some of us have already said goodbye to a spouse in this life, and the thought of having already bid them farewell as our partner forever can be heartbreaking. So why no marriage in heaven?

The Sadducees were a difficult bunch. They were strict in their interpretation of scripture. Since there’s no depiction of heaven in the Hebrew bible, they considered it a made-up fairy tale. They came to Jesus not really interested in learning about marriage but in trying to size him up as their enemy—someone whose belief in the resurrection would make him an easy target for their ire. They didn’t count on him giving such neat and tidy answers to their questions. But, in truth, their problem is the same as ours.

We are limited by our imagination. We think of heaven as the most wonderful thing we can think of. Streets of gold. Puffy clouds. Eternity with the people we love. But that is too small a thing for God. Heaven isn’t comparable with this life. Heaven isn’t just what we have on earth made better. It’s something far beyond that. That’s why Jesus is fond of saying that we must distance ourselves from family and friends—even hating our parents and children—for the sake of the kingdom. That’s why Jesus looks at the Sadducees and sighs. That’s why he listens to our feeble hopes and says, “That’s not good enough.”

In God’s kingdom, we are so overwhelmed by God’s presence—by the rightness of everything—that there literally isn’t room for anything else. In this life, marriage can be a beautiful thing. But in the next life—as incomprehensible as it seems—even the most beautiful things we know of pale in comparison. Being worthy of the kingdom means letting go of our limited hopes and imaginations. It means recognizing that even the things we hold most dear are worthless when we consider the magnificence of heaven

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