Will you join me in Luke 20:38

“Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”

What does that mean? What does it mean, that to God, all of us- past, present, future- all of us are alive? I’ve been preaching now for over 32 years, and I have to admit that I was always offended by Luke 20:38.

“Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living.”

What? I thought. So the people who have died just don’t matter to God anymore? That somehow, once you’re dead, you’re off the radar? I didn’t get it. What about all the saints, that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us? I just didn’t get it, so I skipped over this verse, brushed it off without serious consideration. There’s a lot more to preach on in the Bible than this one verse in Luke!

But about two weeks ago. I was reading scripture, and there it was: the thing that I have missed all these years.

“Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”

God isn’t the God of the dead, because to God, they’re not dead. To God, all of us, the living and the dead… are alive. Our loved ones may be dead to us, but they’re not dead to God.

It’s like that verse in Psalm 139 that I make all the confirmands memorize:

“Where can I go from Your spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, You are there. If I fly on the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast…”  (Ps 139:7-10)

Is there anywhere we can be where God is not already there for us?

Even in the shadows of death, is God not there for us?

Go down to the next phrase of Psalm 139: “If I say ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to You.”  (Ps. 139:11-12)

What for us is shrouded night is like the brightest day to God: for there is no shroud which can ever hide us from God. Even the shroud of death. To God, there is no such thing as death. And those whom God has created are never lost, but are transformed into a different life.

 “Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”

It reminds me of what Paul was saying when he wrote his first letter to the people of Corinth:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? …But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Cor 15:54-56)

Can we see it? Can we even begin to comprehend… that in God, all are alive? And if that’s true, what does it mean for us? We still grieve. We still mourn. It feels like death to us, because it is death to us. And a part of us has died with the passing of our loved one.

But has a part of us actually died? No; we don’t die. We change, we begin a new phase of our life. No matter how bad it feels, we are not dead.

And our loved ones- they have changed. They have entered into a new phase of being- a phase that God sees, even if we can’t.

Einstein taught that neither matter nor energy can ever be destroyed.  It simply changes its mode of being. Matter explodes into energy. Energy congeals into matter. Both alive, vital. And for those who have eyes to see, both are still visible.

 “Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”

For all that, it still feels like death to us. When we wake up in the night and they’re not there; when we pour ourselves a cup of coffee and forget that we no longer have to pour two; when we turn around to share a thought, and there’s no one there to listen. It still feels like death to us.

Rachel Naomi Remen wrote a short reflection concerning her mother’s death. “I was late,” she wrote, “for what was to be my last visit with my mother. Pushing through rush hour traffic, tired from a long day at the office, I stopped to buy her some flowers. It was seven in the evening and the florist had no purple irises, my mother’s favorites, and little of anything else.

Sympathizing with my distress, he offered me a bouquet of half-closed iris buds from his icebox, assuring me that they would open in a few hours. I took them and waited, irritated and impatient, as he wrapped them in green tissue. A strange-looking bouquet. Then I hurried on.

Carrying the flowers, I pushed through the heavy doors of the hospital ward. A nurse was waiting there for me. “I’m so sorry,” she said. My mother had died a short time before. Stunned, I allowed myself to be led to her room. She lay in her bed, seemingly asleep. Her hands were still warm.

The nurse asked if there was anyone I wanted to call. Numbly, I gave her the numbers of some of my oldest friends, and sat down to wait. It was peaceful and very still in the room. One by one my friends came.

Four days later I was three thousand miles away, arranging for my mother’s burial. It was an unseasonably hot spring, and New York City was at its muggy, uncomfortable worst. The funeral director was a person of sensitivity and kindness. Gently, he went over the arrangements, assuring himself and me again of the details of my mother’s wishes which we had discussed on the phone.

Then he paused. “There was something that came from California with your mother. May I show you?” Together we walked down the corridor to where my mother lay in her closed pine coffin. Lying on the coffin lid, still in the twist of green tissue paper, was the bouquet I had left in my mother’s hospital room on her bed.

But now the irises were in full bloom. I remember them still with great clarity, each one huge and vibrant, seemingly filled with a purple sort of light. They had been out of water for 4 days.

It would be easy indeed to dismiss this sort of experience, It would be easy not to make a simple shift in perspective, or find a willingness to suspend disbelief for a moment. Not to consider adding up the column of figures in another way and wonder. The willingness to consider possibility requires a tolerance of uncertainly.

But could it have been God’s way of  letting me know that there may be more to life than the mind can understand?”  (Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom)

There is more to life- and death- than the mind can understand. And Jesus said,

“Now the Lord is God, not of the dead, but of the living;  for to God all of them are alive.”

Dear friends, what if that is true?

In the Name of the One who loves us, and will never- never- let us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen

Resources: Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom, “Mystery”, pp. 323-324


Scripture for Nov. 17, 2019        

ISAIAH 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, and a feast of well-aged wines. And here on this mountain,  God will banish the pall of doom hanging over all peoples, the shadow of doom darkening all nations. Yes, God will banish death forever. And God will wipe the tears from every face, and remove every sign of disgrace from God’s people, wherever they are. Thus, the Lord has spoken


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with then as their God, And they will be God’s people. God’s own self will be with them, and will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.