Sunday 20 February 2022: Epiphany 7, Seventh in Ordinary time, Proper 2
The author of life, not the numbers of death
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Context: a seaside evangelical Baptist Church, about 70 members, mainly actively elderly. The real context, of course, is our post-pandemic world
Aim: to give people hope by challenging their view of death
Two years ago, the pandemic that was about to hit our nation and change our lives was just around the corner. Indeed, it was knocking at our door. We knew it was coming, but we had no idea what that ‘it’ would turn out to be like. We had no idea how it would change our world. As the pandemic spread, one of the macabre focuses of each day’s news became the announcement of the latest Covid numbers: how hospital, and how many had died. Many commentators noted that it was difficult for people not to get depressed, anxious, or afraid when day after day, every day, they were being exposed to numbers of death. In the midst of all that, the Christian hope in the face of death seemed somehow all the clearer, more bright, more certain.
In this passage Paul says several important things about death. Although elsewhere he refers to it as the last enemy, in this passage he speaks about it much more as being a servant of God. Indeed, that is what Christ has done by his death and resurrection: what was once our enemy has become God’s servant, and that for our greater blessing. Notice firstly:
OUR RESURRECTION BODIES WILL BE WONDERFUL (VERSES 42-44)
I know that as we age, we often find your bodies increasingly a source of frustration and even pain. Our bodies don’t do what they used to and won’t do what we want them to. We long for deliverance. Paul reassures us that God has ample provision for us. He tells us what many of us increasingly feel: these mortal bodies are natural, perishable, weak and often a source of dishonour. The resurrection body that God will grant us, however, is one that is spiritual, imperishable, powerful, and glorious. Indeed, even beyond that, these bodies will bear the image of the Son of God himself, our Saviour Jesus. It is a great hope. It is a reassuring hope. But also notice the obvious conclusion:
THERE CAN BE NO RESURRECTION BODY WITHOUT DEATH (VERSES 35-38)
Paul speaks of our bodies as a seed (verses 37, 42 and 43), and death therefore is like a sowing of that body for the future harvest. We sow our physical bodies, we reap by God’s grace, the heavenly, resurrection body.
If we long for that resurrection body, as many of us do, free from disease, decay and pain, then to receive a resurrection body we must be resurrected, and that means we must first pass-through death. Thus, for the Christian death is not an end, but a new beginning, not a full stop, but a comma. And after that comma God will write the rest and the best of our story.
THIS RESURRECTION HOPE IS OURS THROUGH OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST (VERSES 44-49)
Paul points out that all of this is ours not through some effort of our own. Nor is it all just some vain and wishful thinking that things will be okay after death. No, this hope is rooted in Jesus. Paul tells us that it is Christ, as the second Adam, who secures all this for us. For just as Adam was the first and head, and in a sense the origin of the human race, so Jesus as Second Adam has become the head, the first, and the origin of the new creation. It is Jesus who is the lifegiver (verse 45). And by his grace and power, just as we have borne the likeness of Adam in this life, so after death, we will bear the likeness of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. We will not only be with him, but we will also be like him.
Although we did not lose any of our flock to the pandemic, over that time we did lose a number of good, godly people to other illnesses and to old age. Today, pause for a moment to remember them. As you do, remember the faith and the hope that they died in, and fix your eyes on Jesus, the author of life, and not on the numbers of death.
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