Yesterday in my sermon I talked about the practical advice St. Paul gave us to help keep us focused on the reality and promise of bodily resurrection, especially during these dark days of pandemic. This is what the apostle said:
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.Colossians 3.1-4
It is easy for us to be uplifted during worship where we set our sights on the love and goodness and justice of God made known supremely in Christ and the realities of God’s space (heaven), and then get bogged down with the realities of the world after worship is over. But Christians are people of power and freedom, and we can choose to think about (or focus our attention on) things of heaven anytime we choose, things, e.g., that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.
One way for us to focus our attention on the truth of the heavenly reality of bodily resurrection that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth is to read and reflect on Scripture that talks about resurrection. During Easter Week, Common Worship’s Daily Lectionary assigns readings from St. Paul’s masterful treatise on resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. So to help you focus your attention on Christ and the heavenly realities this week, I offer you the assigned reading each day along with a very brief reflection. I use the NLT version of Scripture. Feel free to use your favorite translation if the NLT doesn’t float your boat. May God bless you and encourage you, may God equip you to be his resurrection peeps as you do.
Reading for Monday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.1-11
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. 2 It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.
3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 5 He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. 9 For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.
10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. 11 So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.
It is hard for us to imagine bodily resurrection because resurrection doesn’t originate from the human realm; it comes from God. For us to believe in bodily resurrection we must be convinced that it is rooted in human history, that Jesus of Nazareth really was crucified, died, and buried, and that he rose again on the third day. Here St. Paul reminds us of the historical basis of the resurrection. First, he tells us that Christ died for our sins, a conclusion the early Church drew based on the reality of the Resurrection. Why is that important? Because when Christ died for our sins he made those who believed in him ready to live in God’s direct presence in God’s new world. This is why Christ’s death and resurrection mark the turning point in history. Up to that time, our world and all that is in it were sin-corrupted and afflicted by the power of Evil, destined for decay, corruption, and death. We had no hope of ever living in God’s presence and enjoying sweet fellowship with him as our first ancestors did before they rebelled against him in paradise (Genesis 3). So the present age’s trajectory was decay and death before Christ.
But God changed all that by becoming human and dying for us to atone for our sins, thereby making it possible for us to be reconciled to him and ready to live in his promised new world. As we’ve just seen, Christ died for our sins as the Scriptures said he would. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God gave us a glimpse of life in God’s new world and proclaimed to us in this mighty act of power that Death would ultimately be defeated. The trajectory of God’s good but corrupted creation and our mortal lives therefore changed from death to life. This is news, my beloved. Good News. That’s why we call it the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed. To be sure, Sin and Death are still awful realities in this world and the power of Evil still makes itself known all too regularly. But for those who have a real relationship with Christ, our destiny is no longer death but life, bodily life, not some spiritual existence. In Christ’s death and resurrection God affirms and honors our humanity. And why wouldn’t he? After all, God made us in his own image to run his good world (see Genesis 1-2)!
St. Paul then established that the resurrection isn’t some made up baloney or a figment of human imagination. He tells us that he had passed on a well-established oral tradition, carefully preserved from the beginning so that future generations who weren’t eyewitnesses could be taught about this mighty and totally unexpected act of power and grace on God’s part. There were all kinds of eyewitnesses who had seen Jesus after his resurrection, including Paul. This was an event so important that those eyewitnesses made sure that their testimony would be transmitted faithfully and accurately to future generations after the eyewitnesses had died.
This was St. Paul’s point. The resurrection happened. It was an historical fact and reality, unbelievable as it sounded. It really was too good, but it was also true, which made it even better! How can that knowledge help lift and strengthen you to face the death-dealing stories that come from COVID-19? Think on these things today as they apply to your life and your situation and then talk it over with other Christians. As you do, know that you are focusing on things of heaven and God will surely bless your efforts.
Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19.