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!
That’s what you say now! And that is good. But many today would not reply as you have done and in fact those who first heard the women didn’t say this but their own version of ‘Yeah, right!’. After all, it is an incredible news flash and to this day we do not have any other claims like it. Resuscitation? Yes. Return to life having been thought dead? Yes. Mistaken circumstances and the person wasn’t dead at all? Yes. But that’s not today’s news flash! We’re talking about a resurrection! Living after death with death’s power defeated – in other words, living with no more death.
Except that people still die. This Easter message is incredible – incredibly wonderful or incredibly cruel. And this insight isn’t new. The first Christians were not unaware of how weird, strange, preposterous, scandalous, laughable the account of the resurrection was. And yet they maintained that if Jesus was help only for this life, then Christians were to be most pitied for following someone who just leads into death. And that’s what Jesus is primarily known for – by anyone who knows about him – that he died on a cross – and today, we do not understand how in the Roman world back then where honour was more important than life itself and shame more feared than death, the Christians could make any message out of a crucified Lord – and then claim that Jesus has been raised to life and has defeated death itself – and this was all God’s plan to bring people back to him safely. I know it may seem strange to us today but I think that the resurrection message was more scandalous and preposterous back then than today. Back then Paul was saying that final proof of all this can only come at the end of everything when death itself is destroyed but we can live now in faith and hope that this will happen – and we will rise again after death. Today I say the same message but there is nearly 2,000 years of history between me and the apostle Paul and you’d think a crazy idea, a lie, a deception would have faded away in the dust by now but it hasn’t and it doesn’t and it won’t because people each day are meeting Jesus through his Word and discovering that he tells the truth and the story about him is true. What stands between me and the apostle and me and you is the risen Jesus and he still draws people to himself!
As I said on Thursday and implied on Friday, we are not a meeting of the local branch of the Jesus Historical Society, isolated from the past except for our curiosity or interest. No, if Christianity has any truth or purpose then it has to be real for us today. There have to be ‘contact points’ where Jesus and people meet.
Do you remember Christmas? The story of Jesus’ birth, the incarnation, the word made flesh, the infinite God fitting into the baby and then adult Jesus. Christmas leads us to last Thursday and Holy Communion where this Jesus comes to us physically – a person is physically present where their body and blood are! – in the meal of bread and wine. Christmas leads us to the communion rail and open hands and mouths to receive what Ignatius (very early 2nd century) described as ‘the medicine of immortality’ and the ‘antidote to death’ (Letter to the Ephesians). The resurrection language and contact.
And today – the Resurrection of Our Lord – leads us where? To the baptismal font for that is where we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptism is useless without the resurrection. But with the resurrection it provides an assurance of God’s commitment, presence, adoption, new creation – that not even death can destroy.
And between the Christmas and Easter, between the events of nearly 2,000 years ago and us here in 2019, there stands a cross, a death that must be acknowledged and shouldn’t be ignored because on that cross Jesus said, ‘It is finished!’ and for his followers that includes death itself. Death is finished! The message is still absurd to many but each day more and more people discover it to be true when they recognise that there still is an empty tomb – the world has never been able to put Jesus back into the grave – and they never will.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
- 1 Corinthians 15:19 - 28