1 Corinthians 15:12-20 NRSV
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died[a] in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
Resurrection, not simply something to mention about Jesus on Easter morning, and not just something that will happen to us on some future date. Here in our scripture reading for this morning, we have Paul addressing the disbelief of the Corinthians. While they could accept Jesus having resurrected, they were incredulous about their own resurrection. Paul has to remind them that the hope in Christ’s resurrection is not just for this life but also for the world to come. I wonder if for us today do we still share the same disbelief about our own future resurrection? Instead of Paul’s statement of, “If for this life only we hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied,” perhaps today our situation would be best addressed if Paul had instead said, “If for the next life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Resurrection is a one day in the future thing, but it is also something we live into now. Yes, it is the promise of eternal life through Christ Jesus, but it is also the assurance of our lives being transformed here today. It is the promise that our hearts and minds can be resurrected today, saved from the shackles of sins, and committed to a single-minded love for God which expresses itself in our worship of God and in our care of our neighbor! As Christians, we should be able to truly say that there is no grave that can hold this body down from living and having new life in the mind and heart of God!
In 1 Corinthians, we see Paul at his best. Whenever Paul means to make a major point in any of his letters, he gets round about. He says his point, moves away from it for a time before circling back to it over and over again through his argument. He seems to roll back, but like a spinning tire hitting the pavement, it keeps his whole argument moving forward along the road. The church of Corinth could accept this one-off, special case of Christ being resurrected, but the resurrection of all people, especially in the Roman and Greek worldview was not widely believed. This early church struggled with the idea that they might one day be resurrected. Paul connects the two by tying their disbelief to their belief in Christ’s resurrection. If they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, they do not believe in Christ’s resurrection, for Christ’s resurrection assures them of their own resurrection. If Christ did not resurrect then their hope is lost as they are still mired in sin and unreconciled with God. Paul asserts that it is through Christ that they have hope in being reconciled with God both in this life and in the eternity to come.
At the end of all of this, Paul boldly affirms what they know while adding his own touch, “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” Christ serves as the first fruits of resurrection, not the last fruits. For Jesus is a member of our human family, so his resurrection both previews and assures us of our own. In this Paul boldly refutes both the denial of bodily resurrection and those that believed their bodies had been fully resurrected now. Instead, resurrection through Christ becomes something that both impacts us here and now and it is something that will be fully realized one day. Through Christ’s resurrection, we have been reconciled to God as our sins have been forgiven, and we will one day experience the fullness of resurrection in our own bodies.
While the Corinthians doubted whether resurrection had the power to impact their future, it might be more accurate to say that we today might doubt how resurrection impacts our present. Where do we see eternity? Where do we see things going from here? What I mean is that there are many who look forward to eternity as an escape from this life and this place. Heaven often seems to be the final destination in the mind for many. The kingdom, resurrection, and eternal life become one day in the future things, so we live life today as though we are waiting for these to come to pass. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a recycling program a school district in Colorado wanted to start. During their planning to have recycling bins and programs in their schools, they encountered unexpected resistance from the parents. Many of the parents claimed their Christian views led them to believe that this world was so temporary that it was contrary to faith to try and be good stewards of it. It was all going to be destroyed anyway, and in fact, the more polluted things got, the quicker God would be in coming along to destroy it all and bring about the second coming of Christ. How they saw their eternity is how they acted in their present.
How we imagine our future is how we live in our today. Paul’s words to Corinth reminded the Corinthians that their hope for today was also a hope for the future. For us today, Paul could have said, you have this hope for the future but you have no hope for today. In both cases, faith is futile. To only hope for the future, or to only hope for the present falls short. What kind of faith do we have if we only think Christ resurrected to prove that we too would have eternal life? Is that the sole goal of God, to make sure we all live forever? No, if that were the case, I do not believe Jesus would need to have been born or lived or suffered or died. God could have just done that without all the drama. Our immortality is not God’s intent, instead, it is for all of us to be restored to God and to live into that promise today. That is why Christ had to live and die and rise from that tomb, to show us what that relationship could look like and make it possible. That is the kind of future we should imagine, and it is the kind of future we can participate in now.
Jesus rose from the grave to show that his words and life and his ministry were true. Jesus rose from the dead to show us that we have been freed from sin which kept us from God. Jesus rose from the dead to show us what it means to live into that restored relationship with God. Friends, do we live like this is true? Do we live into this new relationship, or do we live like a body held down by the grave? The folks in that Colorado community saw this world as a grave, a pit, and a cesspool, but our God sees this world as the good creation, one that will be resurrected. Our bodies had been graves, our hearts were pits, and our actions were little better than muck for all the good they did. No longer, for Jesus is not dead, but alive and we alive with him! While our bodies will see eternity in the future, our hearts have already been revived. Our actions, by the grace of God, can be full of goodness thanks to the resurrection of our Lord!
There is no grave that can hold us down, so let us not live like there is. Let us live like we are alive in Christ! Let us love in the fullness possible through our hearts having been revived through the love of God! We explored a couple of weeks ago how God’s love, this agape love, is an active and transforming force in creation and in us. Friends, we have experienced this love, and we grow in this love day by day. We hold Christ resurrected only if we continue to grow into this love, and in that past weeks we have heard a lot about how our gifts and actions cultivate this love. We are caught in between today and eternity. The grave still nips at our heels, so we must live into this love to keep moving toward eternity. To go back or to stand still will only hold us down. We must practice God’s love toward people and creation with our own love, until the two become indistinguishable. We must practice a life that models the first fruits of resurrection, Jesus Christ. When people look at our lives, look at our love, and look at how we move through this world, they should catch a glimpse of eternity through you and me.
Siblings in Christ, do we believe in Christ only so we can have eternal life? That is no kind of belief at all! We believe in Christ because there is a God-shaped hole in our hearts. For all our striving and all the things we put into that hole, nothing save God could fill it. God has filled it with love through the resurrection of the Son! In our hearts now beats the living heart of God, do you feel it this morning? It seeks to make our love, our lives, and all that we do carry the touch of the eternal! We are caught in the in-between, so we must live into our future to move toward that future. We must love God with our whole selves, and this will be seen in the ways that we love our neighbor as our whole selves! I believe that as we do this, the world will look at us in amazement! They will ask how we can love and live and act as we do. They will wonder at the goodness that shines through our lives. Friends, they will see the resurrection, they will experience eternity, an eternity of being restored to the one who fills the deepest needs of our hearts, our living and abounding God! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman