1 Corinthians 15:12-20
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 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.
Death is scary. I think we do well as a Church to come out and say that. From the moment we as people find out that our time is limited, we spend of lot time worrying about that end. To quote the wisdom of a Country song, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, nobody wants to go now.” We face, day after day, the reality of our own mortality. Every breath could be our last, and if we say that isn’t intimidating at least, I think we’re lying to ourselves.
Death is so severe of a thing to face that Christ, the perfect image of God, though fully divine, was shaken to the core by the reality of his coming death. While the severe nature of Christ’s death no doubt added to his fear in Gethsemane, I don’t think it is too far a stretch to say that Christ was scared of any sort of death. How else could God, who never knew what it was to not be, to suddenly face deprivation of something – namely deprivation of earthly life.
Yes, death scared Christ even though he knew that Easter was coming. Death scared Christ even though he knew that, “By his stripes” we would be healed. All the knowledge in the universe, all that ever was or will be, and death still seemed scary. Nonetheless, Christ followed God dutifully to the end, and in his last breath he was sure enough of God’s plan to say – “It is accomplished.” That is, all that was required for Christ to die according to scriptures prophetic voice.
If Christ struggled to find peace in his final days, we should not suppose that we are greater than Christ in our ability to find peace. Nonetheless, we have a God who has gone before us in death, facing the horror in a way that we could never imagine. With all this said though, if the story were to end there, then we would have no reason to ever feel at peace again. A dead God is a dead God. Whether they died in solidarity with us or not, they’re not doing anything anymore.
It is this thought process that Paul speaks about in today’s text. The death of Christ on the cross was not the end of the story, and if it was, then not only is the Church mistaken in all it does, but we are to be “pitied most of all.” However, there are those in the Church who deny the resurrection. Whether it be a philosophic rejection, a spiritual rejection, or a scientific rejection – there are many within the fold of the faith who see Christ as God perhaps, as living perhaps, but not as resurrected and enfleshed at the right hand of the Father.
For philosophic reasons many opposed the bodily resurrection early on in the church. Among Greek Platonists and Stoic atheists the idea that someone would come back from the dead, worst still that they would keep their body when they did so? Disgusting. Platonists did, after all, see all matter as evil, a perversion of the “Good” which transcended all creation. Stoics viewed death as the final end of all things, there was no afterlife, death was the final end, and all we could ask was to end our lives well and on our own terms.
To Jews, at the time the resurrection of a single person into Glory disturbed the Pharisees and scandalized the Sadducees. To the former, they could not imagine that only one person would enter into Glory before all the faithful after all everyone was to be raised when the World to Come became the World that is. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection at all, holding only the Torah to be scripture they did not believe in angels or an afterlife of any substance, the whole of the human life was to be spent following God – to die well and with a good legacy was all anyone could ask for. Both would be disturbed by this particular messiah though, an apostate in their eyes, a rebellious nobody they had crucified.
The death of God on the Cross does not rest well with anyone. Greeks and Jews were equally uncomfortable with the idea – and yet both Jews and Greeks converted en masse. Why would they do this? There is only one reason, and that is the reality of the resurrected Christ.
I mentioned the way in which spiritual or scientific oppositions to the resurrection existed. While I think few Christians object to the resurrection because of scientific reasoning – miracles innately defy science anyway, many do deny it spiritually. Many talk about heaven as an escape from this world, as shedding off the weak flesh and becoming the strong spirit. It is true that we become “spiritual bodies” when Christ returns, but it is important to remember that this does not mean we’re ghostly saints walking around noncorporeally in the Kingdom of Heaven.
No, the Greek tells us that what occurs is a transition from our ψυχη – our physical, life force filled being – to our πνευματικος – the blessed state which Christ first embodied for us. We cannot deny Jesus as being a physically resurrected person without denying the essential piece of Christ’s work. Interestingly, Paul goes so far as to prove the importance of Christ’s resurrection by first stating the general resurrection of the dead proves the particular resurrection of Christ. If there is not, Paul argues, a resurrection for us – then Jesus could not have been raised either. If Jesus was not raised, then where is our hope? It is in the same grave Jesus was buried in.
There is no body in the grave though. Jesus walked and talked, ate and drank with his disciples following his resurrection. He implored them to prove his physicality, reach out and touch my wounds. No one took him up on that offer, good thing too – nothing kills a party quicker than putting your hand in the host’s open wounds.
John tells us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The important thing is that the Christ never stopped being flesh. To this day a human being, a godly being, sits with God the father in the Heavenly throne room. The resurrection of the singular Christ is a seal, a proof, of our own future glorification.
“What does this mean for me?” A good question. Remember that at the outset we talked about death. The fear, the finality, of the cessation of all that we know. If we only had this life to go off of, then we would have no reason to think anything followed the termination of our life signs but the extinction of that particular nature we call ourselves. We would either live in constant fear at our eventual end or be forced to create a meaning for ourselves. To live in the Eldritch terror of an uncaring universal, or the personal conviction of Nietzsche’s existentialism.
Yet, to put it lightly, “God got up!” Christ did rise up on the third day. The tomb was empty. The resurrected Lord did appear to Cephas. To the Twelve. To the cloud of witnesses, many of whom are still alive. And the miracle for all of us is that – as one untimely born – Christ appeared to me. To you. To all of us who would count ourselves the least of the apostles.
Do you fear death? You’re not alone. Christ precedes us in our fear, Christ knows what it is to feel and to truly be abandoned in our last moments. Christ nonetheless led the way into life for us as well. The triumph of the resurrection of one person, the Christ – is the promise of the resurrection of all people – the world to come. This is the comfort that we can rest in. That we have a proof for our faith. It would one thing to live in a purely intellectual faith, one that we would never need proof for. We aren’t like that though, at the end of the day we all like to touch, and smell, to know and to see in a physical way the world around us.
Unfortunately, none of us were there to see the empty tomb. So where is our proof. It is seated in every chair that is now reading this. All the faithful are proof of the resurrection because they embody the fruits of the spirit. We are duty bound, not to defend God, but to testify of what the risen God does in our lives. Our healing – spiritual and physical – our repentance and our good works – all these are means to speak to God’s work in our life. Even more, those who are able to find peace in simply sitting at the feet of God, testify in serene and beautiful ways.
We are the resurrected Christ to the world. The Church represents all the promises of the world to come in the world that currently is. As such we must commit ourselves not only to rest in the promises of God’s eventual deliverance of us from death but to the testimony of the present goodness which God daily grants us. For Paul and many others, this testimony was carried out so that we gave them a special name. The word that means, “to testify” is, after all, μαρτυρεω – to testify is to be a martyr.
For many today, dying for the Gospel is still a way to testify God’s work in their life. Lest we think it is required though, let us remember that many saints did die a natural death throughout history. Still, their testimony was living a life worthy of the Gospel they had been called to. A life full of love, and faith. If we today wish to testify our resurrected Lord, we must begin first by becoming like him. Let us, therefore, commit ourselves to love, rest upon the promise of the resurrection, and in all things do the Good which was set out before us in the work of Jesus Christ. Amen.