Resurrection
Resurrection

6 weeks ago we began the Easter Season with the story of women visiting the tomb, finding it empty, being told of Resurrection and then fleeing in terror.  Now, on the last Sunday of the Easter Season we listen to Paul tell the Corinthians what Resurrection means.

The (fairly long) passage for this week is 1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57. You can read the NRSV text here.

Over at The Text This Week there are multiple links to RCL pages with similar Scriptures.  You can find them here.

The folks at Working Preacher provide a Commentary and a Podcast.

Part of me would like to read the whole 58 verses of chapter 15.  I think we miss out on the full strength of Paul’s argument when we skip those central verses (we miss the spiritual body and the physical body as well as the seed imagery– although that does tend to lead into a dualistic approach to body and soul/spirit).  But then there would be even more options to choose from as a sermon hook. As it is there are plenty to choose from. In fact I suspect one could use 1 Corinthians 15 as your primary text for the whole Easter season…

One option would be to focus in the first few verses, the section that is so obviously creedal.   In my first year New Testament course these verses were included in an assignment to determine what the basic message of the earliest church was. And when you get down to it, we are continuing (in various ways) to hand on what we first received. How do we proclaim what we see as having first importance? What incidents would we be able to add to that list of appearances/experiences of the Risen Christ?

As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive
As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive

Or we could get into the details about why resurrection is important. What does it mean for our faith if the resurrection was spiritual instead of bodily? Is there a resurrection of the dead? What does it mean if the appearance stories were “only” ecstatic mystical experiences? Do we follow Paul’s line or do we interpret the Easter event differently? It strikes me that this is a chance to get into an exploration of what resurrection means, of the place of Resurrection in the eschatology of 1st Century Judaism and how Paul revises that understanding with his “first fruits” descriptor, of what it means to us today to proclaim resurrection. Following along with the first fruits, do we proclaim a resurrection that happens as soon as we die (to join those who are waiting for us in heaven) or is it a future event that will happen when the eschaton happens?

On my internship I did a funeral for a fellow where half the family was Seventh Day Adventist. I remember his grandson calling me with a degree of angst because the SDA side of the family did “not believe in heaven”. They followed the idea that we sleep until the end times when we all be raised.  I would argue that this is the understanding that best fits what Paul describes — particularly in verse 52 when he talks about the trumpet blast.

Then there is the idea of victory. Conquering the last enemy. This idea of victory is an ancient understanding of Easter. In opening the tomb and raising Christ God shatters the power of death. I suggest that we still live in a culture where death and dying are sources of terror. Maybe we are afraid of the death of our loved ones or ourselves. Maybe we fear for the death of our church, or our service club, or some other organization. But theoretically as people of Easter faith we should no longer be afraid of death because we know that life wins. In the end life still wins. How do our lives show that we believe that death no longer has the victory, that death has lost its sting?

And for the Harry Potter fans out there….how many will refer to the gravestone of James and Lily Potter with the inscription “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” as one of their sermon illustrations?

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4 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary Leanings: Life and Death and Victory Edition (1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57)

  1. I am actually going to use the first few verses in the children’s time, as we have a bible to give to a new reader and I want to talk about the importance of knowing our story. Then for the regular scripture reading, I’m actually going to just start at verse 12, so I can focus on the point that life is the end-game of our story. I’m afraid if we actually read 1-11, all people will hear is “died for our sins” and then I won’t be able to do anything else.

    I haven’t figured out exactly what I’m going to do with any of this, but that’s what I’m putting in the bulletin….

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  2. Oh and I intentionally did not include it in the post (to focus on the actual Scripture) but this Sunday is also Mother’s Day in the US and Canada. Personally I do little or nothing in worship for Mother’s Day (probably a mention in the prayers is about it since Children’s time is taken by Baptism) but anybody trying to link this passage with Mother’s?

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  3. I preached a sermon in seminary on this text or the last half of it and pointed to instances of resurrection that I had seen. A young woman who had cancer, a young camper who went from being a pill to a leader. I might use a story from a church in Oregon that closed but sold their building to be a warming center and educational place.

    I think sometimes we think of resurrection in these grandiose ways and we miss the things around us. I also just read the story of Naaman from 2 Kings so I’m thinking about “little resurrections”.

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