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It’s now been about 2 weeks since I returned from leading a group of 21 members and friends of Prince of Peace on a trip to the Holy Land. It was a great experience for everyone. We got to see and experience places that many of us had only read about in the Bible. We were able to sail on the Sea of Galilee, float in the Dead Sea and walk in places that Jesus walked.
And of course, one of the places we visited was Bethlehem. And when you visit Bethlehem, there are three things you always do: you visit the Shepherd’s Fields (which look very different from what you imagine a “field” to look like); you visit the Church of the Nativity, which is a Byzantine era church built over the traditional site of Jesus’ birth; and you visit one of the many gift shops run by the dwindling Christian community in Bethlehem.
The shop we visited this time was really interesting, as it was run by the family of the guy who discovered the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947. And maybe because the family was so connected to that ancient history, this shop also was a licensed place to buy antiquities.
I was NOT in the market to buy any antiquities! But somehow, it must have been obvious to the shop manager that I had some interest in these ancient items. And so when the shop manager came up to me to thank me for bringing the group in (although I really had no say in which shop we visited!), he said he wanted to give me an antiquity as a gift. So he gave me this little oil jug that dates from the Iron Age (roughly 12th – 6th century BC)…
It actually is a cool little jug! And the thing that I always find cool about stuff like this, is that I’m holding in my hands an actual thing made by an actual human being who lived 32 centuries ago. And as I hold that jug, I wonder what life must have been like in the Iron Age. Although I know a little bit about the time period, and have looked it up a bit more on the internet, I really can’t imagine what it was like to live in that age.
And moreover, if I could talk to the person who made and first used that jug, I wouldn’t be able to describe the age I live in, either. How could I begin to describe electricity and indoor plumbing, let alone air travel and the internet?
Generally speaking, ages are defined by paradigm shifts. And it’s hard to even imagine how things worked in a previous age, let alone a new age that you haven’t seen.
And we all kind of know that, because ages don’t seem to last as long as they used to! After all, the Iron Age lasted for roughly 600 years. But as a kid in early elementary school, I was taught that we were living in the “Space Age.” Then, that morphed into the “Computer Age”, then the “Information Age” and then the “Post-Modern Age.”
And while some of those “ages” probably really aren’t “ages” in the traditional sense, there have been some real paradigm shifts that weren’t imagined when I was a little kid. After all, I grew up watching “Star Trek” re-runs in which people thought that “communicators” were something that might be developed centuries in the future. Now, we look at those re-runs and wonder why the “communicators” are so much bulkier than our cell phones? And how is that Capt. Kirk had to whisper into the communicator to ask Scotty to beam him up when the scary aliens were close by? Did they not even envision text messages?!
Things in a new age really can be hard to imagine. And that’s the issue going on as the Sadducees question Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. And although the Sadducees often get a bad rap, from a logical perspective, they have a point.
They know what this age is like. And they know how things work in this age. And it just doesn’t seem possible that things can work any other way.
Moreover, when an “age” seems to be passing away, you often can’t see what new thing is coming, but it’s easy to see what you’re going to lose. And so the Sadducees tell this story about a guy who gets married, but he dies. Then his brothers in turn all marry his wife, but they die, too. Then finally, the wife dies. And so at the end of the story, everybody’s dead.
And that’s the way everybody’s story ends in this “age.” We know what we’re going to lose. How could things work any differently? How could another “age” even be possible?
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t try to explain how things can work in another age. Maybe he figured the Sadducees wouldn’t care anyway. And maybe he figured explaining the “age to come” would be as weird as me trying to explain “internet” to an iron age person.
So instead, Jesus simply promises that a new age beyond this one really is coming. And that new age is full of the promise of new life and resurrection, not death and oblivion.
Jesus doesn’t try to explain how the age to come will work. He simply points out that the age to come will:
- Necessarily work differently than this age – just as a new age always does; and even as things that couldn’t be envisioned in one age turn out to be commonplace in another age, God has more surprises in mind (even if social institutions as seemingly bedrock as marriage aren’t there anymore…)
- Only be glimpsed if you’re willing to “think outside the box”; people will be “like the angels” Jesus says (and here’s the thing about the angels – Jesus is yanking the chain of the Sadducees – they don’t believe in angels either!) So Jesus isn’t telling us we’ll have wings and play harps, he’s reminding us not to limit our thinking about God and what’s possible for God…
- Be possible not because of human faithfulness or progress, but because God IS. That is, the same God who created everything out of nothing is unwilling to let it all go away – especially us. He never has and never will. He is God not of the dead, but of the living. God IS, and because God is, we get to exist too, both in this age and in the age to come…
And that’s why Jesus says there’s hope for an age to come. That’s why Jesus says there’s hope for us. It’s not because human progress will eventually develop better technology. It’s not because human beings will eventually be good enough or moral enough or woke enough to earn it. It’s because God really IS, and it’s because God loves us.
And that means that God is with us in this age, whatever that age may be called. It means that God will be walking with us into the next “age” of this life, even when it’s not clear what changes that age will bring. And most of all, it means that even when our “ages” end, God really does have a new and better age in store for all of us.