If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:19–28 ESV)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
And the world has never been the same since this message first rang out! Who would have thought it possible? Who would have expected it? Yes, we might say ‘Well Jesus did tell them!’ but no one expected it to be true – perhaps they regarded it as a metaphor somehow but none of Jesus’ followers were waiting outside the tomb with cameras and autograph books, drinks, and maybe even the cool towel one receives after boxing death and the devil a few rounds. Early in the morning some of the women who followed Jesus were there at the tomb to finish the job of burial. They expected Jesus to be dead – a not unreasonable expectation after a crucifixion.
What they encounter – an empty tomb, the linen cloths by themselves, and two men in dazzling apparel is what their eyes see – but more importantly it is what they hear – what is revealed to them that counts. Because, as in a lot of life, you can see things but not really understand what you are seeing and you need words to explain it to your eyes.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words. (Luke 24:5b-8a) The women told the Eleven and whether it was because they were women or that the message was preposterous or both, they were not believed. Does that sound familiar? I expect we’ve all had the experience of saying that Jesus is alive again and we believe it and people responding with incredulity, maybe scorn or pity, and unbelief. If the Eleven could do that we should not be surprised if those in the world do it too. The message is incredible – incredulous – but if true what does it mean?
Two things to note. Firstly that even for those first eye witnesses of the empty tomb and later Jesus himself what makes their eyes work are the words explaining what or who it is that they are seeing. It remains possible that someone could see Jesus and think that someone had spiked their drink! But to see Jesus or the evidence of his resurrection – empty tomb and linen cloths by themselves – and be able to say afterwards, ‘My Lord and my God’ comes from faith more than sight, from understanding more than observation. And faith and understanding are grounded in words.
John records Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene but her eyes are only opened when Jesus says her name. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus talk with Jesus but their eyes are only opened at the breaking of the bread. Luke and John are pretty clear that if you want to meet Jesus then listen to him speak to you and come and to where Jesus is the host and the meal. Later Luke will record:
45 Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:45-48 ESV)
The second thing to note is that first day and for decades afterwards – we find it scattered throughout the New Testament and it doesn’t stop even now – in fact I’m doing it right now – the resurrection is constantly talked about and explained and proclaimed because it is not a natural occurrence – it is beyond our world’s experiences of death being final – it is supernatural and therefore requires words so that our eyes see clearly the reality.
So Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians spends a portion of the letter (Chapter 15) explaining the dynamics and mysteries of the resurrection. And we heard [in our 2nd Reading] that if Jesus hasn’t been raised then Christians really are to be pitied – as poor deluded fools. Jesus’ resurrection is the declaration that the work of salvation, forgiveness, and life with God is finished – it is done – complete – guaranteed – assured – dependable – we don’t add anything but simply receive it – and that isn’t simple because it results in living differently this new life in this old body and old dying world.
Paul also tries to give a larger picture about the resurrection – a context so to speak – even a timeline – that talks about Jesus as the first resurrection and he brings about our resurrection and the defeat of all that would harm and kill us – the last of which is death – and then at the end he and God are united – yes this is mystery language here – trying to glimpse and understand spiritual mysteries outside of time – but ending with the comforting message that everyone in Christ will live with God who is all in all. Also every rule, power, and authority in this world will give way to Jesus which means that there is accountability before Jesus. Thus the resurrection message gives us a big picture – in fact the biggest picture – when one can see into eternity – and it is secure because of Jesus and rests in God.
This resurrection message then can release us from the anxiety of the future – the what ifs, the unknowns – so that we can turn our attention to now and the world around us – and again Jesus is with us using words, water, bread and wine – and he calls us to follow him each day, resist sin and evil, and serve those whom God has placed around you.
We definitely don’t see Jesus and perhaps people today feel like they have missed out because those first Christians saw Jesus. But when reading the New Testament we discover again and again that their eyes back then needed their ears to understand what they were seeing. Maybe they saw Jesus once. Maybe they didn’t see Jesus at all. Whatever their situation they and we are the same – that we need the resurrection message to be a proclamation – a news flash – not a scientific experiment that can be repeated – because the message addresses people personally. Jesus died for you. Jesus is alive and with you. The world cannot disprove this message. And any dispassionate consideration of the evidence about what happened to Jesus after he died has to acknowledge that the best explanation of all the evidence is what Christians say – that Jesus did rise from the dead!
Today we have those same words which help us understand what we are seeing – the world around us – and not seeing – Jesus. Today we can say about Jesus ‘My Lord and my God’ and testify about an empty tomb and the truth it reveals – that Jesus is with us and should death come before Jesus reappears, then I’m simply going home where I will see Jesus face to face.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19 - 28