Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but 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. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’
– Luke 20.27-38
The law about which Jesus squabbles with the Sadducees in this passage referred to Levirate Marriage, and was intended to answer a significant cultural question; how to preserve the legacy of those we love; in this case a brother who died childless. Of course this is not the way they approach it on this occasion. This passage represents a common place debate between conservative and progressive Jews about resurrection life. The Sadducees hold that since resurrection life is not mentioned in what they consider the word of God (inscribed in Genesis through deuteronomy) it surely doesn’t exist; while Jesus sides with the Pharisees in affirming its existence on the basis of God’s continued speaking (let those with ears to hear do so!). Nevertheless, this passage offers a useful reminder for us so soon after we honored the lives of our deceased loved ones on All Saints. We have honored them; yes. We have acknowledged the impact they have made on our lives; yes. But how will we preserve their legacy?
This is an especially important question for us as a faith community as we begin a time of discernment of God’s vision for a revitalized life and ministry. We stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before us, who have given much, and who are watching from that great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, rooting for us in our spiritual efforts. Yet the question remains, how will we honor their legacy? I have seen far too many churches whose idea of honoring legacy was to wrap it carefully in sentiment, store it away and keep it forever unchanged. That way it would always be available for a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Others don’t recognize past as past; but continue to live out the patterns others have laid down without regard to their effectiveness in new settings. In this instance it’s not so much a matter of honoring legacy as mindless repetition of its patterns.
In my estimation, neither of these options honors legacy, because they treat it as dead, lifeless. Their value lies only in intimidating us with memories of the glory days long gone by. But consider what Jesus says of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Are they dead? Is their legacy powerless? No, because God is God not of the dead, but of the living. Thus, as they live, so their legacy is powerful, and can inspire great things. So it is with the legacy of our loved ones. They are like that burning bush Moses stood before in awe and humility. They are common bushes, every one; and yet every one burns with holiness, every one is afire with God. If we will only open our eyes we will see that earth’s crammed with heaven; we will see that the legacy left us by our loved ones is living and powerful, and that it can and will inspire great things in us – in our ministry – in the years ahead. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take off my shoes and walk bare footed!