Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 38:15 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Indeed, that is, actually. Really. The Greek way to say it is that He is risen truly; in truth, He has risen. There are no doubt people preaching, maybe even preaching today, who will say that it doesn’t really matter if Jesus didn’t bodily rise from the dead. They will say that even if someone were to find Jesus’ bones in a grave and prove that they are His, that that doesn’t affect what we believe. That we can find some “truth” in the idea of resurrection that can sustain us. They will say that we should use the idea of resurrection to embrace the new, or to embrace life, or to love one another, because that’s what all religions are really about anyway.
But I can tell you that, for myself, if Jesus is not actually, bodily, physically, actually risen, ascended and glorified; if the Son of God in flesh is not alive with divine life forever, then we are wasting our time. We might as well leave right now and go find a brunch place that’s open. Eat, drink, be happy, because tomorrow you die, and so you need to pack in as much “life” as possible before then. And I’m sure many people are doing exactly that today. People who wouldn’t be seen in such a “dangerous” place as a church where people are gathered around Jesus, who is the Life, are certainly gathered around the buffet line today.
But, as you can see, I’m not at brunch right now, which means that I am convinced that Jesus is actually risen from the dead. And so is St. Paul. He says that even then, in the first half of the first century, there were people in Corinth saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. That it is not a thing. Not surprising then that people are still saying the same thing, but now they use Twitter to do it. But Paul says, if the dead are not raised, then Jesus is of course not raised either. And if Jesus is not raised, then empty is our preaching, and empty is your faith. Let all the preachers who are trying to hang on to some scraps of Christianity without the resurrection hear this: if Jesus is not raised, then empty is our preaching, and empty is your faith.
More than that, we are found to be bearing false witness about God! We are lying about God, because our witness, our testimony, according to God, is that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if there is no resurrection. And if Christ is not raised then worthless is your faith; you are still in your sins. And that means that those who have fallen asleep, who have died in Christ, are actually destroyed, gone forever. Everything that we preach and everything we believe is meaningless and empty and worthless if Jesus is not raised from the dead, which would mean that there is no resurrection for us either.
And it’s not good enough to try and retain a bit of niceness from all the things we have to discard because we’re modern, enlightened people, who know that resurrection is not a thing that happens. We could try to use Jesus to talk about being nice, or loving each other, or working toward a better world, and people have tried to do exactly that. But Paul puts the final nail in the coffin holding the dead bones of all of that. He says that if we have hoped in Christ only for this life—that is, if we try to use Jesus to make us better people here and now, or to just be nice because that’s all Jesus really wanted anyway—if we have hoped in Christ only for this life, because there is no other, then we are to be pitied above all people. It would be embarrassing, really. Paul is convinced that it is all or nothing. Either Jesus is raised from the dead, and that means something about what happens to us after we die, or He was not, and we’re wasting our time talking about it.
Actually, it goes deeper than that, because let’s just say for a moment that all we really need is for people to be nicer, for people to care about other people, for people to serve and help each other. Let’s talk about the good things that people do to try and alleviate at least a little of the suffering in this world. Christians have done good things for people—creating hospitals, for just one example. All of those are good things. People who serve other people at their lowest and worst moments are doing God’s work; they are His masks as He serves and helps people.
But for all their good, none of that can actually deal with the problem at its most fundamental point: why do we need hospitals? Why do we need doctors and nurses and nursing home and hospice workers? Why do we need funeral homes and caskets and cemeteries and crematoriums and urns? Because people get sick and die, and nothing we do, no technology, no science, is able to stop it from happening. We can relieve some pain, and that’s good. But we can’t stop it from happening in the first place. And we can say that death is a natural part of life, but we know it’s not. We grieve and mourn and weep because we know it’s not. We know it shouldn’t be this way. We know, even if we don’t know the real reason, that our world shouldn’t be full of suffering and death, as it has been this last year, and as it always has been.
The only thing that can actually deal with that problem is making it all right in the end, making death come undone; that death should be swallowed up forever and disappear. Anything less is putting a band-aid on a cut when the dying person is breathing his last. It’s not really going to help. And so Paul says that, in fact—indeed, truly—Jesus has been raised from the dead. And he reminds the Corinthians of what he preached to them first, what was of the most importance and the most significance: that according to the Scriptures, Jesus died. And according to the Scriptures, Jesus rose from the dead. Not according to what we call the New Testament, but what we call the Old Testament, which were the only Scriptures Paul had. What happened to Jesus was the culmination of everything that God had promised, and everything that God was doing from the very beginning of creation. If Jesus did not die and rise, we can ignore everything else, including what Jesus said while He was alive. If He did die and rise, then all of God’s words are life-giving, because they are the words of the one who is the resurrection and the life.
This Jesus, raised from the dead, appeared to Peter, James, the other apostles, and to more than 500 people at one time, many of whom, Paul says, were still alive while he was writing to the Corinthians. And then Jesus even appeared to Paul, who (he says) is not worthy even to be called an apostle because he persecuted the Church of Christ. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Who are You, Lord? I am Jesus.
Paul says other things to the Corinthians, but this is first, and this is foremost. This is the center. Everything else depends on this like spokes depend on the hub of a wheel. There is no sunshine without the sun. And this is the reason we are here, and the reason we are not wasting our time. Because God is not wasting His time. Where else would we be, if we can be with our risen Lord, and He actually speaks to us, and actually gives us His eternal, resurrection life in His body and blood? Where else would we be, than in the place where we are reminded once again that Jesus’ resurrection means our resurrection? This is the entire hope of the Christian: the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. This is where everything leads, or it leads, literally, nowhere.
We are here because we are waiting for the day when Jesus will appear in His resurrection, divine glory, and transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body; when we see Him, who is our life, then we will be like Him. And we are here because until that day, and because of that day, we take care of bodies that are going to be raised, bodies that are sick and dying now. We do this because of that. I suppose you could be so heavenly minded that you were of no earthly good, but the more resurrection-minded you are, the more earthly good you will do. Because you know that all this isn’t just going to end in our death and the fiery end of the planet on which we life. It is going to end in the resurrection of the body, a new heavens and a new earth, and eternal life; the feast of resurrection that Isaiah foresaw, when our Lord appears. This is Yahweh, our God. We have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation, that our Lord is risen indeed, and in fact, and truly. Alleluia!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/2/21