Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children having been collecting toy soldiers since the time of the ancient Pharaohs. The earliest toy soldiers were made for the rich and nobility from wood, stone, clay and metal. It wasn’t until the end of the 1700’s that toy figures were first produced for the masses. A century later lead soldiers were favorite collectables, and by the 1930’s a new generation of children were collecting soldiers made of a sawdust and glue mixture called “composition.” After WWII, some manufacturers looked to plastic as a cheaper and more child-friendly medium. Soon unpainted plastic toy soldiers were omnipresent in the toy boxes of children around the world.
Two hundred years ago, the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen captured this image of collecting toy soldiers in his classic fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
Once upon a time, a little boy was given a set of 25 toy soldiers for his birthday present all cast from one old tin spoon. The boy set them out on a table top. They all looked the same, heroic and brave, except for one who stood on a single leg. He was the last one cast and there was not enough metal to make him whole. Nearby, in the boy’s room, the steadfast tin soldier spied a pretty paper ballerina with a jewel on her sash. She, too, was standing on one leg, and the little tin soldier fell in love. That night, the jack-in-the box, who also loved the ballerina, angrily warned the soldier to take his eyes off the ballerina, but the soldier ignored her. The next day, the soldier fell from a windowsill, presumably pushed by the jack-in- the- box, and landed in the street. And so began his great adventure through the street of Copenhagen, Two boys found the soldier, placed him in a paper boat where he sailed off towards the canal, but before he reached sea he was swallowed by a fish. When this fish was caught and cut open, the tin soldier found himself once again on the table top before the ballerina. Inexplicably, but perhaps at the jack-in-the-box’s urging, the boy threw the tin soldier into the fire. Mysteriously, a wind blew the paper ballerina into the fire with him; the two were consumed by it. The next day, the maid cleaned the fireplace and found that the soldier has melted into a little tin heart, along with the ballerina’s jewel which was now burned black as coal.
It is a lovely, fairytale ending to Hans Christian Andersen’s story. The soldier lives on as something immortal-an ingot of love. But that is not what our Lord Jesus Christ promises in death. No, my friends, Jesus promises a resurrected life.
The Sadducees in this morning’s gospel lesson would have approved Andersen’s fairytale ending. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, that is why they were sad you see. They were a powerful group in Jewish society who governed the Temple. According to their interpretation of the ancient scriptures, death was the end. An immortal ingot of love, a tiny hint of the love once known was all that believers could expect from this world. So the more Jesus spoke of the Son of Man being raised from the dead, the more the Sadducees needed to trap him. So they challenged Jesus with a case meant to make resurrection look so ridiculous that no one would believe it: One Bride for Seven Brothers. The Sadducees were not really interested in human loss and grief; they were asking him about the financial inheritance of the family for a barren woman. Which of the brothers would receive the woman’s portion of her family’s inheritance in heaven? Jesus dismissed their challenge. In the age to come, he said, the whole financial institution of marriage would be unnecessary, and this woman would not be passed along as property.
Even if this passage doesn’t paint a picture of what heaven will look like, it does insist that the resurrected life will be different from the life we know. It is not a fairytale. Jesus was underscoring for the Sadducees that eternal life will not simply be an endless state of “more of the same.” But rather, the resurrected life will be qualitatively different
Of course, the Sadducees are not alone in questioning the promise of the resurrection. There are voices all around us who question the Christian faith’ focus on the resurrection dead. They believe that it is no different than an Andersen fairytale. Like the Sadducees, they try to raise objections to make the promise of Jesus’ resurrection seem incredible. And it isn’t just the skeptics. Sometimes, we can hear our own voices joining them in chorus. The death of a loved one may be too recent, and the grief is too great. You want to believe, but you are still wrestling with the shock and the absence of their loving hand in your daily sojourn.
Now you may be wondering, so what do children collecting toy soldiers have to do with today’s story? Well, children collect toy soldiers and tell stories of great victories, not out of love of war. but most often they do it, out of respect for the real soldiers they have known and admired. The soldiers I knew as a child, the men who were part of that greatest generation that fought in World War II, fought for a better world for their loved ones today, and the promise of eternal life for tomorrow. War was not a fairytale that would end happily, ever after, nor did they believe that their lives would end as an ingot of tin melted into the form of a heart. They believed and trusted in a Savior who had defeated death, and offered the promise of a resurrection for those who follow him.
As Christians, we believe in a heaven that is more than mere immortality. So we need not listen to the skeptics and Sadducees of our age. Instead, we can choose to trust like steadfast soldiers in the redeemer who promises a true resurrection of the body in which they will be united with God and they reunited with us. Yes, the resurrected and restored person, whom you love, and who loved you, will be there to greet you in God’s eternal kingdom. That is the assurance of Christ offer in his own death and resurrection. That is heaven. And it is that final resurrection that will ultimately bring an end to all of your grief, your tears, and your suffering.
Every soldier of Christ knows that death is a possibility- but every soldier of Christ knows that in Jesus, there is a promise of a new, resurrected life. Yes, because our redeemer he lives, we shall live also. And that makes all the difference in what we sacrifice, in how we live and how we die.
On this Remembrance Sunday, as the silent army of the dead marches before us, let us demonstrate a renewed spirit of courage and place our fear, love and trust in God. If we shall remember the honored dead, let us live in the promise of the resurrection. Let us offer ourselves in the service to others, and let us strive for an even better world to come. If we shall remember them, let us live not for ourselves, but let us live striving for justice and righteousness. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.