Resurrection In Life: A Homily for the Sixth Sunday After Epiphany. Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 13 February.
Readings for This Sunday: Jer 1.5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15.12-20; Lk 6.17-26.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15.17).
I never regret going to our Monday night Zoom bible studies because I always hear someone say something that challenges me and makes me think. Last week our group wrapped up its reading of the gospel of Mark, and someone asked, “why does Jesus have to die?”
That’s a great question, with many possible answers. One could start by saying that he dies to show the love of God, which takes the full brunt of human fear and hatred and can still show forgiveness. A second answer might be to show man’s inhumanity to man, even to the most innocent man that ever lived, though one wonders why that needed proving when history is full of examples of cruelty.
The best answer, I think, and the one I would give, is that Jesus had to die to rise again. St. Paul would certainly say the same thing. For Paul, writing to the early church in Corinth, the resurrection is everything. We don’t know exactly what was happening in the church in Corinth. Like any church it had its squabbles and disagreements, but Paul has evidently heard that there’s an argument over the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. “[S]ome of you”, Paul writes, “say that there is no resurrection” (1 Cor 15.12).
Now it may surprise us to find that people in Paul’s time had doubts. Weren’t the early Christians very faithful because they lived so close to the time of Jesus when belief was fresh and new? Weren’t ancient people less rational and more credulous than we are today in the post-Enlightenment, scientific West? Well, no. At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul came out and said that his preaching on the cross seemed like “foolishness” to many (1 Cor 1.18-25). Now when Paul talks about “the cross”, he’s talking about the whole story of the Passion, which ends with the empty cross and the empty tomb. I am sure there were many in 1st century Corinth who found it just as hard to believe that a crucified Jewish criminal could rise from the dead as people in 21st century Canada find it hard to believe today.
I know that people find it hard to believe in the resurrection because I’ve met them, and some of them were Anglicans! I well remember one parishioner, an urbane, cultured man, who absolutely loved church music. Once, after our Easter Sunday service, he said to me, “It’s just a children’s story, isn’t it? You don’t really believe it, do you?” I confess that I kind of spluttered for a bit. “Yes,” I said, “I do believe it, because I think it’s true.” When he pressed me further to say why I thought it was true, I said that while I couldn’t prove it, I thought it was the best story I could find to make sense of the world. I still think that.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
I won’t put any of you on the spot and ask you if you believe the resurrection happened. I honestly wouldn’t think any the less of you it you told me that you struggled with it. I’ve heard many Anglicans tell me that they have trouble believing everything that’s in the creeds. In fact, the preacher Barbara Taylor Brown likes to say that we see the creed together because on days when you find it too hard to say, someone else will say it for you, and vice versa.
So no harm, no foul, if you’re sometimes relying on the next pew to finish the creed for you. I get that. It’s why we’re church as the body of Christ and not just a bunch of fragmented individuals. Perhaps the mistake we make in belief is thinking that faith has to reside just in the creeds, that it has to be head knowledge as opposed to heart knowledge. Frank Crouch, a biblical scholar, made a really good point in my reading this week when he said that Paul doesn’t say that we need to believe in the resurrection so our theology is correct. No, Paul is saying instead that the resurrection is real. We can see the reality of the resurrection in changed and transformed lives, starting with Paul himself, who went from persecutor of Christ to a preacher of Christ (15.9-10).
In other words, we can see resurrection, we can understand it and believe in it, by looking around us. Speaking for myself, I’ve never seen someone raised from the dead, not physically. I have seen people raised from the dead in other ways that were just as meaningful or even more so.
Here are some resurrection stories that help me make sense of the world. I know a beloved priest, a gifted and caring pastor, who gave up his career as a stockbrocker because he thought a life of greed was killing him. That was resurrection. I’ve seen a young father, an alcoholic, pulled back from divorce and ruin by his the love and care of his friends in AA. That was resurrection I’ve seen a soldier, who lost his legs to a roadside bomb, teach himself to run marathon s on steal springs because he would never, ever see himself as crippled or as a victim. That was resurrection I’ve seen a woman, her body ruined and mocked by cancer, face her death with grace and serenity because she knew that God would take her hand and bring her across the void to the other side. That too was resurrection, or at least the anticipation of something as certain as sunrise the next morning.
Perhaps you think I’m stretching the point here, or cheating a bit, because these examples of resurrection are metaphorical. Perhaps, but I’ve also seen the absence of resurrection in real and tragic cases. I’ve seen people who were so far gone in addiction that they couldn’t take responsibility for the harm they were doing to others. I’ve seen people so far gone in grief that they had all but ceased to live. I’ve seen people so far gone in anger and trauma that they had alienated everyone around them. Not every story has a happy ending. Lives can be wasted and ruined. You don’t need to be a corpse to be resurrected, but without resurrection, you can be one of the living dead.
When Paul talks about resurrection, he’s talking about the transformation that God can work in our lives. Without God’s resurrection power, without transformation, our lives become stunted and withered, which is what Paul means when he says “If Christ has not been raised … you are still in your sins”(1 Cor 15.17). Without resurrection, there is no forgiveness that saves a marriage from betrayal. Without resurrection, there is no love that leads an estranged child home. Without resurrection, there is no regard for the poor, no care for the homeless, no peacemaking, no reconciliation between peoples, no need for us to do anything but grimly and soullessly pursue our own empty pleasures. Without resurrection, there is no one into whose care we can give and commend our beloved dead.
Resurrection is always the triumph of life over death, of hope over despair, of new beginnings over wasted potential. Resurrection is God’s assurance that we aren’t trapped in living deaths in a meaningless void
So why does Jesus have to die? He has to die to show us the way back to life, new life, our best life, the life that only Jesus can give to us, both after our lives, and in the here and now of our lives.