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.
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?
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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