1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57

(sermon note:

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 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.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler 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. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about when Death decided to visit a man one day. The man was just going about his day until Death stood right up in his face. Death said, “Hey, sorry to say it but today’s your last day in this world.” “Bbbut, I’m not ready!” cried the man. “Well, today your name is the first on my list,” explained Death. “Okay,” the man calmly responded. “Then why don’t you take a seat, and we’ll drink a cup of coffee before we go?” “Alright,” Death said hesitantly, wondering how the man became so quickly resolved in his fate. The man walked over to kitchen and poured a couple mugs of coffee. With his back to Death, he managed to slip a couple sleeping pills in the mug for Death. The man turned around and gave Death the mug. “Here you go,” said the man. “It must be difficult staying awake with all those dying people out there.” Death grunted and eagerly took the mug, chugged in back in one full swig, and got a little smile on his face. Within minutes, Death was sound asleep on a nearby chair. The man took his list, erased his name from the top of the list, and added it to the bottom of the list. A couple hours passed until Death finally stirred from his slumber. “Wow! I feel totally refreshed! Who knew coffee would’ve put me to sleep?! I must have really needed the sleep. Thank you, kind sir, for the coffee. I tell you what, for your kindness I’ll start working my way up from the bottom of my list.”

Ole boy thought he was clever enough to fool Death! Sure, he bought himself a couple of extra hours, but Fate intervened and put him right back at the top of the list. That man’s trickery wasn’t all that unique to him either. I imagine people have been trying to fool Death into more time ever since they first came to realize their time in this world is limited. What a hard realization to have to come to! I wonder if we’re the only living things to have been burdened with such a realization, to know that some day we will die. I suppose the ingrained instinct to survive suggests that all living creatures subconsciously understand death. Eat, drink, sleep, avoid pain, seek comfort…I guess there is an awareness of death inherent in all living things. But I think we of all creatures have built it to be life’s great enemy. We avoid it, run away from it, fight it, even try to trick it as if it is the worst part of living in this world. We’ve come to fear death as this great, undefeatable monster. Why? Because it takes everything away from us. Everything we work for, everyone we love and trust, all that we have is so unfairly taken away from us by death. It’s no wonder we’ve come to despise and hate death! Not to mention border on complete apathy and cynicism…I mean, what’s the point of life if it’s just going to be taken away from us in the end?! Why even both living?!

I think Jesus understood our struggle with death all too well. He, too, wrestled with the same desire to live in this world. Recall his words in the garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal, when he knew death was right around the corner. He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matt. 26:39) Jesus didn’t want to die either! Jesus wanted to live, just like you and me! Alas, Jesus had the wisdom to realize that his ability to live was always out of his hands, that it is always a gracious gift from the Father. Jesus is in no better position to demand anything from the Father than we are. He has to ask just as we have to ask of the Father. And besides, Jesus has wisdom that is beyond our wisdom. Jesus didn’t pray for death not to come for him because he was afraid of death. No, Jesus knew that death wasn’t an end. Death wasn’t going to take anything from him. Death was simply going to change his existence. Jesus knew that there is life after death, new life, and like all of us he was simply frustrated with the changes that come with death. Like you and me, Jesus hates CHANGE!! Go figure! He truly is human after all! Nobody likes change, especially the older you get. I guess I shouldn’t say “nobody”…the only people who like change are those who are dissatisfied with their present situation. But get ‘em to a situation of contentment and satisfaction and they’ll be just as adverse to change as the rest of us. Change is hard to endure and in death there is a lot of change.

Jesus despises change and yet he knows ultimately death allows for the resurrection. Death allows for new life to occur and that is far more important to illustrate than avoiding change. With new life comes new hope and new opportunities. With new life comes new faith and new love. Jesus’ resurrection is far too important in our faith for it to be minimized or dismissed. We can’t minimize or dismiss Jesus’ resurrection! For 7 weeks now we’ve been reflecting on his resurrection because it..is…that…important! Jesus lives and if we believe this then we can truly live. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (14:8) We ought not be afraid of death. It’s simply a transformation, putting on “imperishability” as Paul tells us in our reading for today. What we should be afraid of is not belonging to the Lord. Now that is a terrifying reality, not being known and loved by Christ!

Jesus died and rose again not only to illustrate there is new life after death but also to invite us into eternal life with him. Recall Jesus’ words in the book of John, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (11:25-26) If we are to believe in him, then we must believe in what he did for us…died and rose again. I know the resurrection is hard to believe, especially as it flies in the face of all reasoning and scientific proof. But who ever said following Jesus was without faith? Following Jesus demands faith! We rely on faith alone! So as we close out this Easter season and welcome in the long season of Pentecost next week, let us rejoice and trust in the resurrection. Let us give thanks for the eternal life it gives us. As John so succinctly tells us, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (3:16) Believing in him involves believing in all that he did and does. Let us boldly and fearlessly believe! Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.