Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Sally and Sully had met in High School. Sally had caught Sully’s eye from across the Diner. Sally wasn’t at first, quite sure what to make of Sully. Yet Sully was so persistent in trying to win her over, she gave him a chance. As Sally began to spend time with Sully, she soon became smitten. Sully was always the perfect gentleman, always offering Sally his coat to keep her warm on a cold Minnesota Fall night. Sully also had the ability to make Sally laugh like no one else she had ever met. A few years after meeting Sally and Sully were married in a church not unlike this one. Sally and Sully then proceeded to spend nearly 60 wonderful years together raising three children in the process.
Shortly before Sully’s 80th Birthday though troubles arose, Sully’s breath started getting shorter and shorter. Sully then started coughing up blood. Sally insisted that Sully go to a doctor immediately. In the past Sully would have been stubborn and refused to go. Yet even Sully knew that he didn’t feel like he ought to feel. Sully feared what would happen to Sally if anything happened to him. The Doctor’s visit led to Sully seeing a Lung Specialist who brought grim news, Sully had Stage 4 Carcinoma. Sully and Sally were told that the Cancer had spread to a point where treatment yielded little to no benefit. Sully had less than six months to live. The community and family rallied to Sully’s side in his final months. Sully heard from friends that had moved away years before, which led to the opportunity to say goodbye.
Sully’s final days were tough; Sully had to be placed on Oxygen and had difficulty communicating with his loved ones. Sully’s funeral happened on a Tuesday. Pastor Neil preached a beautiful sermon at the funeral about the Christian Hope of Resurrection.
The kids stayed with Sally for a few weeks. Eventually everyone drifted back towards to their normal lives. Only Sally didn’t have Sully around anymore. Sally decided that she was going to try to find ways to keep her days busy: meet friends for coffee, playing cards and go volunteer down at the local nursing home. Yet every day when Sally went home it was tough. As soon as Sally walked in the front door, everywhere she looked reminded her of Sully. The quietness of the house without Sully’s ranting and raving was often unnerving. Not having Sully to tell about her day would leave Sally with a sense of sadness as she lay down to sleep every night. Sally was a regular at the local Lutheran church in town. Sally rarely missed a Sunday because it was one of her best opportunities to interact with people throughout the week.
One Sunday though Sally went to church where she heard the preacher say something that greatly troubled her. Sally’s Pastor, Pastor Neil, was preaching on our Gospel lesson for Today from Luke 20 when he said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven”.
Pastor Neil said plenty of words after this, yet Sally couldn’t shake these words from her head “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
As tough as the last several months had been on Sally, the one thing that comforted her through it all was thinking that she was going to see Sully again. Sally couldn’t imagine something really being Heaven without Sully enjoying it along with her. Sally eventually gathered the courage to talk to Pastor Neil about what she was going through when she heard those words “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.”
Pastor Neil was blunt and direct in answering Sally’s questions. Pastor Neil was convinced that there would be no Marriage in Heaven. Pastor Neil believed that the scriptures were clear on the subject.
To be sure, Pastor Neil made some good points in his conversation with Sally. Pastor Neil pointed out how the afterlife cannot be compared to this life in any way, shape, of form. Pastor Neil reminded Sally that we have no knowledge based of a world without sin, a world without pain, and a world without death. Pastor Neil tried to comfort Sally by assuring her that as wonderful as her marriage to Sully was. The afterlife is defined by the things of this world, but rather by the goodness and mercy of God extending beyond what we can even imagine.
This story of Sally, Sully, Pastor Neil, and the state of our relationships in Heaven brings us to Today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke 20. Our lesson comes to us from the Jerusalem Temple during the Last Week of Jesus’ life.
Jesus is engaging a group of Jews called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were made of primarily wealthy and high to do individuals in Judea. The Sadducees were the primary authorities of the Jerusalem Temple. A unique aspect of their belief system was that they only regarded the Torah or the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as their authority. Since these books never mentioned the Resurrection of the Dead or any sort of afterlife then the Sadducees weren’t going to believe in it.
So, our lesson for today consists of the Sadducees attempting to set a trap for Jesus by seeking to expose his foolish beliefs about the resurrection. They engage Jesus about a hypothetical situation involving a woman and seven brothers. The women’s first husband dies leaving his wife without any children to support her. It was the custom of the day that in such situations that the widow would then marry their husband’s brother. Such an action would help keep a brother’s name and lineage alive. Yet this widow had terrible luck. Her luck was so terrible that she eventually ended up marrying all seven brothers.
So, this big question in our lesson is “Who is this widow paired up with in Heaven?” Which one of these seven brothers?
The situation behind our lesson might seem crazy. Yet similar situations occur today as widows remarry and end up being very happy for a number of years, whereas others seek different forms of companionship after the death of a spouse. What about those who endure divorces due to the decay of a fallen humanity on earth? Is there a possibility of reunion in Heaven? What about those who aren’t blessed with happy Marriages? This lesson raises a big question of “What form do human relationships such as Marriage take after the Resurrection of the Dead?”
I think a few points on this question need to be stated.
The big issue in the text for today isn’t the status of relationships in the great beyond. Jesus isn’t intending to give the Sadducees a description of the literal inner-workings of heaven. So, if someone were to just say Jesus said “There will be no Marriage in Heaven.” They should be reminded that this was not the point that he was trying to make in our passage.
The real issue for our passage has to do with the Sadducees denial of the afterlife. The Sadducees whole belief system was based on the idea that what one received in this life was as a direct result of their own personal goodness. Since they had been so generally blessed in this life then they saw no need for their own redemption. The Sadducees would not believe that which they could not confirm by either science experiment or life experiment. The Sadducees would see Dead bodies in the ground and believe that was all there was.
The debate between Jesus and the Sadducees is well described in today’s lesson which states “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”-Matthew 22:30-31
For the real issue that our lesson deals with seeking to answer the question of whether God can raise the dead, and to that question an answer would soon be given.
Additional comment should be given regarding the nature of relationships in the afterlife.
Jesus words from this passage are often misunderstood. The best translation of the passage from Luke 20 isn’t that there will be no Marriages in Heaven. The best translation is rather that “There will be no given or taking in Heaven, they neither marry nor are given in Marriage”. Basically what this passage says is that there will be no new Weddings in Heaven. The point of this passage is not to declare relationships null or void after the Resurrection.
So, this brings back to the question of “What forms do relationships in the afterlife take?” “What will Sally and Sully’s Relationship look like?”
We can start by saying that we do have scriptural evidence of being able to recognize other people in the afterlife. Within the story of Jesus Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by three of Jesus’ disciples. The Rich Man and Lazarus were able to recognize each other during their encounter in Hades. In the 15th Chapter of Genesis, God tells Abraham that when he dies then he will join his ancestors thereby strongly implying some sort of reunion. Even within today’s lesson in seeking to discredit the Sadducees view of the Resurrection Jesus invokes one of the most famous stories of the Old Testament in the encounter of Moses with God in the Burning Bush. It is a noteworthy reference as Jesus invokes God declaring himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Father, Son, and Grandson. Jesus draws reference to their family bond remaining in place even after the resurrection.
Yet as we leave here this morning we must remember that many of the questions that we are considering are ultimately open questions or questions that we don’t really have a knowledge base to answer. Questions about the nature of the Resurrection aren’t really dealt with by the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians the 15th Chapter (Perhaps the most drawn out statement of Christian belief within the scriptures regarding the afterlife).
Perhaps the reason that we don’t have a lot of details regarding our heavenly relationships is that they will be so different from our earthly realities that they cannot be expressed.
The thing about Resurrection life is it does not serve as the end of any relationships, it merely makes our present and earthly relationships stronger to such a degree that we cannot comprehend it. The nature of the resurrection is such that it will destroy all the former things of existence.
As Apologist Steven Ray points out, “We cannot understand our new spiritual bodies and heavenly existence any more than a caterpillar can comprehend what it is like to be a butterfly. We cannot anticipate how personal relationships will flower in glory any more than any acorn can anticipate standing 50 feet tall.”
For those of who have gotten married later in life to a second spouse, I think the best advice is to let God alone worry about what forms your new relationships take after the resurrection in comparison to your previous relationships. Heaven will not define relationships according to the pettiness and jealously that we often do. There will not be two men fighting over to whom a woman belongs in heaven (I can say this with relative confidence).
We go forward today by seeking to grasp the certain acts of our savior rather than the uncertain speculation. For in the words of Revelation 21 and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Sally lived several more years after Sully died. These years which at first seemed meaningless eventually developed into something meaningful. Sally began to consider how her continual presence on the Earth even without Sully served as a chance to impact others from children to grandchildren to friends to fellow widows.
Sally’s last days were spent with her kids and Pastor Neil by her side.
Sally overtime came to accept what Pastor Neil was trying to get across in the sermon several years before. The afterlife wasn’t going to be comparable to this life in any way, shape, or form. Even as Sully and Sally had become one flesh. The nature of their relationship was going to take a much different form in the afterlife then what they had previously experienced together. Yet for both Sally and Sully it was going to be for the better.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “. Defenders of the Catholic Faith. 22 Jan.2013 Web. November 4, 2013.
 Ray, Steve. “Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven “