1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57
May 24, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, someone I knew back in my undergraduate days died as a result of Covid-19.
He survived the initial battle with the virus and had been transferred into a rehab unit to complete his recovery. Things were looking positive … friends and family breathed a slight sigh of relief. Then, a day or so after he entered rehab, his heart gave out … the battle with Covid-19 was just too much for his body.
The death of someone I knew has me in a period of reflection … especially when the last in-person image I have of him is as a 20-something-year-old sitting a few people away at graduation.
It has me pondering the years that have passed … the other friends that have gone during those years … about mortality and what lies ahead.
I’m sure that such reflection is true of many of us when we lose someone we knew.
In these moments, death brings the force of its full weight upon us.
Since the pandemic first hit, death and the fear it sparks has been a preoccupation for many of us.
We watch or listen to the news and get the latest death count from the virus … we hear the stories of hospitals having to store bodies in refrigerated trucks because there is no room left in morgues or funeral homes.
It is in such times as these … when death seems like an overwhelming, evil force … that we find ourselves pondering what lies ahead and what the future holds for us.
A debate within the congregations in Corinth over what lies beyond death seems is the problem that Paul is dealing with into day’s passage.
At the request of Chloe’s people, Paul has written a letter from Ephesus to help erase divisions among the people of the congregation in Corinth.
The congregation is divided along a number of fronts.
It is divided along social status lines … over which teacher to follow … over worship practices … over their various spiritual gifts and how to use them … how they interact with all the different cultures and beliefs that are present in the greater community … now Paul is dealing with divisions based on the story of Jesus’ suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.
Judging by Paul’s letter there are members of the congregation who do not fully subscribe to the story of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension or what it means to their lives.
Some members may have believed that the soul was resurrected, but the body was not … that it was just a husk that was left behind when the spirit ascended. Others may have believed that they had already been resurrected through their baptism.
And still others in this congregation in Greece, it appears, may have even denied the resurrection of the dead … believing, instead, that it was just a nice story told by Paul, the other apostles, and those teaching within the congregation.
Today is the final Sunday of Eastertide … the time between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is known as Ascension Sunday and it seems an opportune time to reflect upon the place the resurrection story holds in our lives and within the life of the congregation.
In today’s portion of the letter, Paul tells the congregation that if the Christ’s resurrection wasn’t real … if the dead aren’t raised … then, Paul says, all the proclaiming that he and the others have done is just been blowing smoke up peoples’ skirts.
He tells the Corinthians that:
“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.”
Basically, if the resurrection story is false, then there is no hope.
But then, Paul tells them that there is hope.
That the story is true … that the witnesses to the events have shared the story … and the story continues to be shared.
Paul tells the congregation that the resurrection story means that death doesn’t rule … that a person’s body and spirit are raised … not one without the other.
In a podcast on today’s reading, Lutheran professor Kathryn Schifferdecker said:
“The resurrection isn’t about stripping away … it’s not about being less than you are now, it’s about being more than you are now.”
It’s a story meant to be shared through our words and our actions … to show people the “more.”
Proclaiming Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension is not an invention of Paul or other preachers … but rather it is a recollection of a shared experience.
Paul calls this sharing of the resurrection story a tradition and argues that sharing this tradition with others is essential to being a true follower of Christ.
This “tradition” has travelled through the centuries to us.
It is central to our worship life … in fact, it sits at the centre of our Sunday liturgy as part of the creed … the affirmation of our beliefs … that we recite as a collective people … it is an affirmation of hope.
Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:
“Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are thus real events that involve all human beings. Nevertheless, Christians are “with Christ” in a special sense. What for the rest of humanity becomes a cause of death is for Christians a gift of grace.”
… this means that resurrection story is more than just a story … it is THE story that shapes our lives … that informs our relationships with others and … by extension … carries the promise to transform the world.
It is a story that cradles hope.
In the face of rampant death … of the increased numbers of people battling Covid-19 … how do we deal with death? Where do we place the resurrection story within this current context?
As we move through the various waves of the pandemic … as we keep tabs on the death statistics through the fog of uncertainty … we can hold tight to the belief that God will … through the cross … through death … bring new life.
This is the Gospel promise that we affirm within the Creeds we recite … the promise we are called to proclaim and share through our lives.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!