It is interesting to note how Paul’s writing has shaped the way we look at faith. It is easy to assume that Paul’s letters were written following the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and that Paul builds on the story of Jesus coming from the gospels. Instead, people who study language and writing tell us these letters of Paul to the church in Corinth were some of the earliest writings concerning Jesus Christ, faith, and all the good things. Paul was kind of out in the forefront with his writings and is a significant contributor to the way we understand faith.
Which is a good thing for us 2000 years later. Paul is pretty good at putting things out there and that’s good for us because we are the recipients of Paul’s understanding of faith in Jesus Christ. Imagine trying to grasp what faith in Jesus Christ would mean if we didn’t have some of Paul’s direction and explanation.
Not that faith is an intellectual exercise. Faith does not seek intellectual assent to a propositional truth. Faith is not a logical progression from point A to point B because with faith there is a lot of mystery involved. We have to ask ourselves if we are after proof or are we after faith?
I like proof as much as the next person. I minored in maths in college and I find great comfort and reassurance in the certainties of geometry, trigonometry and calculus. That’s all well and good but when it gets right down to it, where does proof come from? Proof comes from other people, what other people have researched and thought about. That works out pretty well with mathematics. On the other hand, where does our faith come from? Faith is a gift of God through the Holy Spirit. Putting it that way, which one are you more inclined to trust? Human proofs or faith from the Holy Spirit?
Which is kind of what Paul is getting at in today’s reading. Paul is talking about death and resurrection but what he is driving at is faith and hope. Hope that comes not from proof but from what Christ has done that we believe through our faith.
Did you hear in V3 the creed references? Paul says, “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. Sounds an awful lot like, ‘ He was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again”, doesn’t it? The creed writers did there thing a couple of hundred years after Paul wrote his but I suspect this verse strongly affected the truth of what they were putting together. Something to help us remember the hope that we too have in resurrection.
I’m not a great Bible verse memorizer but 15V55 is one that I can actually remember for some reason. I guess because it speaks to the sure and certain hope that we have in Christ. One of the things I really like about it is that it takes the reality of death head on. That’s a little counter-cultural for us, for the most part. We are a death denying culture. We make TV shows and movies about medical heroics in saving a life at all costs. As a former EMT I’ve tried to do medical heroics in real life a time or two. And there is certainly a time and place for doing all we can to preserve life.
There is also a time and place to give some thought to the reality of death and the fact that ultimately we won’t escape it. If that is true, and we know that it is, then what? Just give up? By no means, as Paul would phrase it. Then we remember the mystery that we hold as a matter of faith. Death may be real but it isn’t final.
Can we prove that death isn’t final? No. But it is our faith leads us to believe that in the end, death has no sting and that our hope is in Jesus Christ. It is our faith that leads us to believe that Christ has the final victory over death. It is our faith that leads us to believe another thing that Paul wrote in Romans 6. If we have been baptized into Christ’s death and we are united with him in a death like his then we’ll be united with him in a resurrection like his. Death is not the end.
Our future hope of resurrection is in what God has already done in Christ. That’s kind of the cool part of it. It’s already happened. Resurrection isn’t some new invention that someone came up with out of the blue and we’re hoping works out in the future. Resurrection is a reality that already exists and we’ll all come to join the party when it is time.
One thing to remember is that in life and death it will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. The question remains then if we no longer need to fear death, how does that shape our life? If we have the sure and certain hope of resurrection and Christ’s victory over death, how then shall we live?
I made several attempts to write a stirring and memorable conclusion to this message and each failed to communicate anything coming close to capturing what it means to be a people created and forgiven by God and given the promise of resurrection. What it comes down to for each of us is to remember we are claimed by God, yesterday, today and tomorrow. For ever. In that promise we are sent into the world to live as if we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. It’ll be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.