Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Lent C, Sunday, February 24, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today concludes our three part sermon series on St. Paul’s theology of the resurrection contained in 1 Corinthians 15. The overarching theme of this chapter, of course, is St. Paul’s theology of how God is rescuing his good creation gone bad, corrupted by the powers of Sin and Evil. We noted that creation is important to God and God never intended to give over his good creation permanently to the dark powers. We must keep this in mind, especially as we look at our epistle lesson for today. In part one, then, we saw that St. Paul linked Christ’s resurrection with his death, stating boldly that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said he would. Only then would we ever have the hope and chance of having our slavery to the power of Sin broken forever and all of creation redeemed. We further saw that Christ’s resurrection validated the apostles’ teaching about the saving power of the cross. Jesus didn’t die a criminal’s death. His death saved us from God’s terrible judgment on our sins. In short, the cross needs the resurrection and the resurrection needs the cross. We also saw that St. Paul demonstrated the resurrection was a real historical event, not some human invented fiction.
Last week we looked at St. Paul’s logic for there being a resurrection. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ wasn’t really raised and we have no resurrection hope. We are therefore to be pitied more than anyone because of the life of self-denial and cross-bearing we are called to live. Piggybacking on the first 11 verses, St. Paul warns us starkly that if there is no resurrection, Christ really didn’t die for our sins just as the Scriptures said, and that we are all still dead in our sins and without hope. Clearly St. Paul understood that the only way to the Father, i.e., the only way to life forever, was to know Christ and have a real relationship with him by faith because only Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11.25-26). For the NT writers, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person and his name is Jesus.
In today’s lesson, St. Paul gets to the heart of his theology about the resurrection. Here he talks about the nature of our resurrection bodies and this is what I want us to look at this morning. Understanding the nature of our resurrection bodies is much more than just an interesting intellectual exercise. As we will see, for St. Paul and us, the resurrection—and by extension Christ’s death—must be the framework that guides all our thinking, doing, and speaking.
St. Paul begins by anticipating objections to the resurrection. Remember that when the first Christians used the term resurrection, they meant bodily resurrection, not some Platonic notion of the eternal existence of the soul. When St. Paul spoke about resurrection he wasn’t talking about life after death or going to heaven. He was talking about dead bodies being raised to life. This was a distinctly Jewish (and biblical) belief that ran contrary to virtually all pagan beliefs about what happens after death. So he asks the anticipated question from skeptics: How will the dead be raised? What a foolish question, he responds! Just because you cannot imagine dead bodies being raised and transformed doesn’t mean God is incapable of doing so. In Romans, St. Paul reminds us that we worship the God who calls into existence things that do not exist and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17), i.e., we worship the God who does the impossible, a God far greater than our puny imaginations and minds can grasp. Nothing is too hard for God. So St. Paul tries to help us imagine the unimaginable. He tells us that like seed planted that is transformed into a crop like wheat or grain, so our mortal bodies when buried will one day be raised and transformed into a new body. This new body will have some similarities to our mortal bodies but it will also be different. It will be transformed but it will still be a body. That’s why resurrection is not the same as resuscitation. A resuscitated body is still mortal and it will die again. Think Lazarus. Think the widow of Nain’s son. A resurrection body is immortal and it will be impervious to death. Think Jesus because that is who St. Paul is thinking about here. Christians will have bodies patterned after our Lord’s resurrected body. The risen Christ could eat and drink and speak. He could be touched. But he could also appear suddenly behind closed doors and apparently change his appearance so that many who saw him did not initially recognize him (cf. Luke 24). There was continuity but there was also something new.
Likewise for the bodies of those who have faith in Christ. Our mortal bodies perish and die. Every one of us knows this all too well. But our resurrection bodies? They will never die! St. Paul continues. Our mortal bodies are buried in brokenness and weakness. If you have ever seen a dead body before a mortician prepares it for viewing, you will understand this too. There is something stark and ugly and terribly wrong with a dead body because death is so wrong. Not so with our resurrection bodies. They will be raised strong and glorious, just like our Lord’s.
At this point, many, if not most English translations let us down. St. Paul goes on to tell us that our mortal bodies are buried as physical bodies and raised as spiritual bodies. This translation of the Greek has led (or more accurately, misled) many to conclude St. Paul was not talking about a physical body when talking about the nature of our resurrection bodies. This simply isn’t true and we must be crystal clear in our thinking about this. The Greek St. Paul uses for physical body and spiritual body are soma psychikon and soma pneumatikon respectively. Adjectives ending in -ikon like these two word do not refer to the quality or nature of the body (i.e., what is it?). Instead, they refer to the source of power that energizes or animates the body. In other words, when St. Paul speaks of our physical bodies (soma psychikon) he is referring to our mortal, sin-corrupted bodies that are powered by our fallen nature and therefore must die because we all fall under God’s judgment. They are patterned after the first Adam, whose sin corrupted all of creation and introduced Evil and Death into God’s good world. St. Paul articulates this idea further in Romans 5.12-21. By contrast, and to illustrate the notion of transformation as it applies to our resurrection bodies, when St. Paul talks about a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon), he isn’t talking about a body made out of spirit, i.e., a non-material existence, but about a body powered and given life by the Holy Spirit. It has to be this way, the apostle tells us, because our resurrection bodies have to be transformed so that they can live forever in God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. That’s why flesh and blood can’t inherit the Kingdom of God, i.e., God’s new creation. It’s not that our flesh and blood (mortal, corrupted) bodies are bad. It’s that they are perishable and cannot live in a world where death has been swallowed up in life and mortality has been swallowed up by immortality. So let us be clear in our thinking on this. When St. Paul speaks of a spiritual body, he is not talking about disembodied existence or arguing that the spirit is good and the physical world is bad. As we have seen, the whole story of Scripture is about how God intends to rescue his good world and us from our slavery to Sin and death and corruption. Here we have the answer: Resurrection and new creation are the Father’s solution to the problem. We must remember that God created humans in his image and gave us bodies. We cannot be human without bodies and we have no life as God created us to have without bodies. So it makes perfect sense that when God’s new world comes in full at Christ’s return, we will have new transformed bodies! They will be beautiful and strong and powered by the very Spirit of God who hovered over the waters at creation and who gives life to all things.
To be sure, there is an intermediate state where our souls go to be with Christ in heaven (God’s space) as we await his return (cf. Philippians 1.21-24, 3.20-21). But even in that blessed state we are still dead because our bodies lie moldering in the grave awaiting their transformation. However, when Christ returns, our bodies will be raised from the dead and our souls reunited with them, and we will be equipped to live forever in God’s new world, thanks be to God! Amen? For anyone who struggles with bodily diseases or deformities, or for anyone who has watched their loved ones grow old and infirm, or who are robbed of their very personality by mental diseases and dementia, there can be no greater balm for the soul than the blessed and unique Christian hope and teaching of the resurrection of the dead.
So how should our resurrection hope shape our lives? First and most importantly, it reminds us that what we do with our bodies matters. Christ died to redeem the whole person, not just our spirit. That’s why God took flesh and bore his just judgment for our sins in the Son’s body. Our redemption does not take place in opposition to our created nature, but in fulfillment of it. What we do with our bodies therefore matters to God because our bodies our his, not ours. He has redeemed them by the blood of the Lamb. This has implications for us in a whole array of matters from sex to exercise to eating and drinking and everything in between. As Christians we are called to reject anything that brings corruption, decay, and death to our bodies beyond the natural processes involved with mortal life. And if Christ died so that God’s children (Christians) could be freed from our slavery to Sin and the created order could be freed from its curse and corruption (Romans 8.18-25), then we’d better pay attention to our stewardship of God’s world and its people. That’s why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for sick. We must always advocate for life and not death for things in God’s world and our lives. Think and pray carefully on these things, my beloved; it’s part of our being “in Christ.” The resurrection reminds us that what we do in this world matters. If our bodies weren’t important to God, if they were to be discarded forever when we die, then what we do now with them is really unimportant. But that is not the story of creation or the Good News of Jesus Christ who came to redeem creation and us. As we saw in part one of this series, no other religion offers such a breathtaking solution to the problems of Evil, Sin, and Death. Our bodies matter to God. They’d better matter to us as well. I therefore say it again. Pray and think on these things, my beloved, because they are of utmost importance to us as Christians. It must shape our lives as God’s family here at St. Augustine’s because the resurrection of the body suggests that salvation is not an individual affair. It is a family affair as St. Paul has labored to explain to us in his first letter to the Corinthians. Our future is life together, forever in a new, transformed physical world where there is no more dying, no more weeping, no more sighing, no more anxiety, no more ugliness of any kind, and no more corruption. God’s promises are true and certain. We see this certainty reflected in all our lessons this morning, from God turning Joseph’s slavery into a redemptive event to being able to trust in the Lord and loving our enemies in all circumstances because we believe God is going to judge and destroy all the darkness in our world even as he redeems his good creation gone bad along with those of us who trust in him and suffer for his sake in this mortal life. The resurrection of the body promises a time when we will be truly free to be the fully human beings God created us to be to run his renewed world in perfect freedom, health, and wholeness. That is why St. Paul concludes this chapter by saying something rather curious. He doesn’t tell us to go celebrate and have a big party because of our resurrection hope, although that is appropriate for us to do. No, he tells us to always work tirelessly for the Lord because our work is never in vain or useless. Despite the setbacks, despite the disappointments, despite sometimes thinking that our work is all for nothing, St. Paul reminds us otherwise. Anytime we do true kingdom work, God uses that to help bring in the new creation. God does this because he intends to redeem us and his creation gone bad, even as it and we are greatly beloved by the Father and the Son, and therefore God will bless and use any faithful work we do on his behalf for his new creation purposes. And that, my beloved, is truly Good News, the best news of all, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.