20 September 2020
The Corinthian Puzzle - Resurrection Body
The letter to the Corinthians that Lloyd read this morning was one of the first documents we have from the early church.. The Corinthians are wondering what resurrection means. They are expecting Jesus return very soon, but they find that those who have died are still dead. So maybe there is no resurrection for them? We have had 2000 years of waiting and it is difficult for us to put ourselves in the place of the Corinthians, when Jesus resurrection was a fresh memory with witnesses still alive.
What had happened to their loved ones? What did resurrection mean physically for them and how was it connected with Jesus resurrection?
The thought that people were made up of a body and a "soul" that escaped it, was a general pagan belief which was part of some philosophies and religions that considered that this physical world was at the best unimportant and at the worst evil. Greek thought was influential in the early church and it had those ideas embedded in it, [the cross was foolishness to the Greeks for this reason]
The Hebrew scriptures had a holistic understanding of the world. The world and in consequence the human body was good. God made the world, created us and that world is to be cared for as God's gifts. The struggle to express what Jesus resurrection was and mean came out of this cultural mix.
The Corinthian Christians Jews knew that a person was a whole person, body and all. A person was not a person without a body. That belief was reinforced by the incarnation, the embodiment, coming in flesh of Jesus himself. Fully human is a whole package. The early church was quick to say that Jesus did not come with a seed of God within him that could take off and leave some sort of human shell, but was a fully integrated person.
In fact Jesus had healed, fed, and encouraged people to love God and one another. The way of Jesus calls his followers to do something about things that need putting to rights in the troubled world around them. Jesus gave people hope, right then and for the future. Does it make any sense at all to speak of future hope if it is not about being on the ground helping people in their daily lives?
[Loader] "Paul would be very uncomfortable with a popular Christian tendency to reduce future hope to the belief that our souls (whatever they are) go to heaven and that is all there is to it."
So when the Corinthians have the bodies of their friends still with them they start to ask questions about resurrection, where are these people? Maybe they don't get raised from the dead?
Paul knows his argument only works because the Corinthians still believe Christ was raised from the dead. Otherwise it loses all its force. He also knew that the resurrection of Jesus becomes an ides, or distant thought unless it has real substance in real lives.
Paul argues -: you believe in Christ's resurrection? Then you should also believe in the resurrection of all believers.
Their expectation about the immediate and physical nature of humans being resurrected changed as the delay became longer between the first and the rest. Paul is still imagining that he will be alive when the rest are raised as the rest of this chapter shows. Later writings indicate that that he, too, knows he will die and that the nature of what happens is yet to be fully expressed. . For us the delay has grown to 2000 years, which make it almost impossible for us to think of resurrection in the way that the Corinthians did. But this is the background of Paul's astonishment, that some at Corinth can imagine no resurrection for those who have died.
For Paul that simply could not make sense. Jesus' resurrection and believers' resurrections stand and fall together. If one collapses, both collapse. That is Paul's view.
And it produces that statement about the resurrection of Jesus which is at the centre of our faith.
Paul says, to these people who do believe in Christ's resurrection. Imagine that Christ was not raised, "Maybe you Corinthians are right and all this resurrection talk is a rubbish. Maybe when I preach to you that Christ was raised from the dead and that you who belong to Christ will be raised too, maybe I was way out of bounds. Maybe I was even lying. But if I was, then our faith is in vain." We are all wasting our time and are to be pitied.
But he says
But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead and you are part of that resurrection too.
Practically speaking he goes on in to say there is now a different body, he tries about three different illustrations. Seed falling into the ground and dying. Heavenly bodies - different and perishable and imperishable bodies but ends up with whatever happens, and we don't know, God will provide whatever form of body which is necessary.
Paul is tying this to the resurrection of Jesus in affirming that the whole person, not a disembodied soul is with God. We don't have immortal souls in the Greek sense of the words, but our whole being is gathered into the immortality of God through Jesus' humanity.
Paul tells them to look around. He uses examples of his own work done in hope, throwing them back on to their experience, their own faith. "If you want to know if the resurrection is true," Paul says, "look around you. Can you see the risen Christ in your own experience? Look with the eyes of faith. Can you see the risen Christ out there in the world?"
He finishes with "Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain"
Why? Because Christ is alive.
Do you want to know if there is a resurrection?
There is a story about Charles De Gaulle - World War II hero and later president of France. t Charles De Gaulle and his wife, Evonne, were the parents of a Down Syndrome child, a little girl named Ann. Charles and Evonne would spend time at the end of every day with their children, making sure to spend some extra time playing with this very special child, Ann. When they would put her to bed, Evonne would sometimes say, "Oh, Charles, I have often prayed that she could have been like the other children. Why was she not like the others?"
When Ann died at a very young age, the De Gaulles had a private graveside funeral service. When the service was over, everyone left the grave except Evonne. Grief-stricken, she could not pull herself away from Ann's grave, but stood there sobbing. Charles went back to her and touched her arm gently. "Come, Evonne," he said. "Did you not hear the promise of the resurrection? She is now like the others."
"How can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" Paul wanted to know. Well, if we keep God's mystery at arm's length, demanding signs and proofs, we will see nothing. But if we open the eyes of faith, the world is full of resurrection light, and we will see signs everywhere of Christ's victory over death.
Behold, I tell you a mystery, Christ has been raised from the dead. Open your eyes to see him. Open your hearts to receive him. And your faith will not be in vain.
Let us pray.
Help us, O God, to be people of faith. Open our eyes, open our hearts, let us see that the tomb that held Jesus is empty, and the tombs that threaten to hold us have their stones rolled away by the power of Christ our Lord. Amen.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We 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. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, PCUSA [De Gaulle]
William Loader [various paragraphs and phrases] Lectionary epistles.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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