Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 17, 2019 – 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 – Trinity, Winchester
Listen to this sermon here.
Passages like the one we heard this morning from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians get right to the heart of the Christian faith: resurrection.
Paul assures us in the words of our triumphant Easter anthem: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul reminds us that Easter is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, the feast of feasts. The day of resurrection defines who we are as a community of believers. “Easter people, raise your voices!”
Each and every Sunday is the day of resurrection. Each and every time we gather, we gather in light of the resurrection. Whenever we celebrate the Eucharist as a community of the faithful we proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection.
Paul’s words may get right to the joyous heart of our faith, but they can also cause us to doubt. If there was no resurrection, then what are we doing here? It’s a scary question.
If Christ was not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain. If Christ does not live, then we remain controlled by sin with no chance of escape. If there was no resurrection, then all those who thought they died in the hope of the resurrection actually had no hope at all. They simply perished.
How can we be sure that Christ was raised from the dead?
We live in a world that demands proof. We are a people greatly influenced by enlightenment principles, humanistic values, and scientific advancement. We like certainty.
We have proof that vaccines immunize us against disease, so we inoculate our children. We have experienced how caffeine increases stamina and alertness, so we drink coffee to wake up in the morning. We trust that gravity will keep us anchored to the earth, so we go about our lives free from the worry that we’ll suddenly float off into space.
It doesn’t quite work that way with resurrection though. Resurrection is hard to believe. We haven’t seen it. Of course there are stories of people technically dying on the operating table and coming back to life thanks to modern medical technology. But being executed, buried for three days, and then coming back to life? That’s preposterous. That is simply not plausible!
However, I’m not entirely sure it needs to be. At least, not in any historically or scientifically conceivable way. Our Christian belief in the resurrection does not depend on physical proof of Jesus walking out of a tomb on Easter morning. We’ll never have proof like that.
I don’t know that Christ was raised because I saw live footage last night at 11:00. I don’t know that Christ was raised because I saw a photo in the Tennessean. I don’t know that Christ was raised because I heard a first-hand account from one of the women who didn’t find the body.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to believe it. In fact, I do. It’s just that we can’t prove that Christ was raised by studying a history book or scientific journal. Our proof is not provided by the kinds of sources that you might cite in a term paper.
Our proof is the Risen Christ himself who dwells among us. I know that Christ was raised because Christ is risen. Here. Now. And I know Christ is risen because I have seen resurrection all my life. I bet you have, too.
I’m not talking about tulips springing from amidst the dead leaves. I’m not talking about the return of the robin. I’m not talking about the first spring dew on the kitchen windowsill or a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
As lovely as those images are, they pale in comparison to the woman who approaches you on the street. She takes a chance and asks, “Are you a Christian? I thought you might be. I work at the diner around corner and when I saw you I thought maybe we could talk. I’m really depressed, and I’m having suicidal thoughts. I’ve already broken two appointments with my therapist. I wonder if you would you pray with me. It’s all I can think of to do.”
You know resurrection exists because at the funeral of a loved one Jesus walks up beside you and puts his arm around you as you sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” In the space of a few moments you are reminded that life is changed, not ended.
You know resurrection exists because you love a man who struggled for years with addiction. Who lost a marriage, a child, a house, a job. Who went from six-figures a year to hanging out late at the soup kitchen hoping they might be able to spare some leftovers. One day after attending a church service he decided to stay for the 12-step meeting. Now he’s a counselor who devotes his life to helping people find successful paths to recovery just like he did.
You know resurrection exists because everywhere you look there are signs of resurrection, glimpses of the fact that the Risen One just passed by.
I remember that several weeks ago in this very space a woman arrived about 15 minutes into the service. She walked halfway down the aisle and found a seat on the west side. She wasn’t here long, maybe about five minutes. Before she left she looked up and smiled the warm and comfortable smile of someone who knows the love of God, as if she wandered in just to make sure it was still here.
That’s how you know. There are signs of it all around. Signs of the risen Christ.
In today’s passage Paul tells us that if Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain. But we know Christ is risen. So, what if we flipped Paul’s argument around? In other words, since you know Christ is risen, then why do you lack faith? Every day that we walk around in the world we seem to forget that Christ walks among us.
We treat other people as a means to an end. We value money above relationships. We let a person’s political views determine whether or not we love them. We make little to no effort to care for the earth or sustain its resources. Any joy we have we keep bottled up inside instead of sharing it with the world.
You see, I think what’s truly preposterous is not that we believe in resurrection. I think what’s truly preposterous is that we believe in resurrection, yet we go on living like the risen Christ doesn’t exist.
Our job is to proclaim that he does. In thought and word and deed. Our job is to be living, breathing agents of the the good news. I assure you, it can be done.
You’re not responsible for resurrection. That’s God’s job. Rest assured, God does it over and over and over again. Your job is to look for it and when you see it to be grateful and let that gratitude spill out of you.
If you do that, someone just might notice.