ISAIAH 52:13 – 53; 12
HEBREWS 4:14-16, 5:7-9, 10:16-25
JOHN 18:1-19, 42
Acts 10: 34 – 43
Isaiah 65: 17 – 25
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14- 24
1 Corinthians 15:19- 26
... 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.
- 1 Corinthians 15:22-26
Before the gospel stories were ever assembled into the versions we have now, Paul wrote letters to his friends in the church at Corinth. He wanted to remind them about the core of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus and how that makes possible our resurrection from the dead.
You have probably heard 1 Corinthians 15 read at funerals. It is fitting, because it is all about death and resurrection, but it is very challenging to grasp. Sometimes, I choose to read it in a funeral, but then I may feel conflicted as to whether it is too strange and technical to simply read it out, to the congregation in front of me. I feel that it ought to be examined and discussed in a group where we can draw out its deep meaning.
When we read a letter (“epistle”) in the New Testament, it might be good to take a step back and try to picture the scenario in which the letter was actually sent and received, nearly two thousand years ago. Yes, we Christians tend to believe that everything in the Bible was put there for us, but whether or not that is the case, we ought to agree that it was originally written for a particular audience in a particular ancient moment. We can imagine the ancient audience reading the words and discussing the subject, trying together to puzzle out its depths.
Paul wrote the letter called 1 Corinthians to people he knew, people he had spent a long time with as their pastor and teacher. From the beginning of this letter, Paul scolds the Corinthians for their quarreling and their spiritual pride (see for example 1:11-14; 26). Over and over, Paul mocks the Corinthians for fussing and competing with each other over spiritual gifts. Against their worldly, fleshly pride he holds up the scandalous, grisly vision of Jesus Christ dying on the cross: For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.... None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (2:2, 8) He counsels them repeatedly to lay aside their snobbery and jealousy and in their place adopt humility: We [that is, Paul and his fellow missionaries] have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. ... I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. (4:13, 16)
Late in this letter, Paul directs the Corinthians to think of their church as one body— the body of Christ— instead of as a bunch of independent individuals (chapter 12). Then, in the famous “love chapter,” he tells them that the very greatest thing of all is to love one another, the way that God loves. He closes “the love chapter” by pointing out that they (as we) are not there yet: now, we only see in part, but the love which is perfectly complete will come, in the end (chapter 13).
Of course, this week of all weeks, we Christians ought to know where to look for perfect love: God’s gift of His son, Jesus who died on the cross for us. And that is where Paul is leading his readers, in Corinth two thousand years ago as well as here and now: 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.... (15:3-4)
For now, we are on this side of death. But Paul wants the Corinthians and us to be aware, one day the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (15:52)
Let’s celebrate Christ’s resurrection together !