Easter Day B
March 29, 2021
The Easter Day Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Mark 16:1-8 from the Lectionary Gospel; Isaiah 25:6-9 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 114 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 2 (Lord’s Day 1)
Author: Scott Hoezee
[Note: John 20 gets assigned by the Lectionary for every Easter Sunday in the three-year cycle. Since I have posted sermon ideas on that text often over the years, this year I will go with the alternative text from Mark 16. But if you want to view a John 20 sermon starter from last year, you can click here.]
Suppose a grandfather calls his granddaughter over and says to her, “Sweetie, out on the back porch I have a special surprise for you: a new bike!” Upon hearing this news the little girl will probably quickly run out to see the bike. If so, you might describe her as sprinting away from her grandfather, maybe skipping out to the porch, or perhaps as dashing or bounding out with glee. You would not, however, say, “Upon hearing about the new bike, the little girl fled from the presence of her grandpa.” End of story.
End of story?? Really? Fled?
Not much of an ending. Weird response, too, to happy news.
The first Greek word of Mark’s Gospel is arche, “beginning.” “Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Now the last word is gar “for/because . . .” The beginning seemed promising. But what about this ending?
“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . .”
“They said nothing to anyone as they were afraid because . . .”
Mark tells us that the women fled. They ran away but not with a skip in their step. They were bewildered. They didn’t even tell anyone a single, blessed thing because, as Mark tells us in the end, they were flat out “afraid.”
“They were afraid because . . .”
And that 8th verse really is the end of Mark as there is now near-universal agreement among biblical scholars and commentators that the last seventeen verses of Mark 16 were not written by Mark but were added on later by someone who clearly believed Mark had not ended his gospel very appropriately. True, my former Greek professor from college told me that it’s not too unusual for a Greek sentence to end with gar the way it would be in English, so grammatically maybe we cannot make too much out of that final Greek word in Mark 16:8, but the sense of ellipsis, of incompleteness, persists even so. “For they were afraid . . .” Really? End of story?
Mark concluded his gospel with the bewildered silence of women who were too afraid to speak. But why? Surely Mark knew what profoundly good news this was. Surely Mark knew that these women did not remain silent forever–if they had, how could he have even written even verses 1-8? Mark was not there in person but somebody told him this story eventually and if it was not the women themselves, then it was someone (perhaps the Apostle Peter, who may have been Mark’s source for this gospel) whom the women did tell. They did not remain silent. That much we know and can infer. So why end the gospel in that silence?
Maybe it fits a larger theme Mark is working on. One of the most striking features of Mark’s telling of Easter is how it is framed by motion. The women begin in verses 1-4 moving toward the tomb, and they end in verse 8 moving rapidly away from the tomb. Indeed, that last verse shows them almost exploding away from the tomb, hurtling outward like projectiles from the middle of an explosion.
Verse 8 is almost like some freeze-frame which catches the women in mid-flight. Picture them with eyes wide in surprised terror, mouths hanging open in shock, their arms outstretched like some sprinter racing for the finish line, their feet a blurry smudge of rapid motion. They flee the tomb, and Mark snaps a photo for us, freezing the action, showing the women in motion.
But in between this to-and-fro movement of the women is still more motion: Jesus is also on the go. The women arrive at the tomb and encounter a young man who says, “You are no doubt looking for Jesus.” Yes, they were. Since he was, as the young man admits, “crucified,” it made sense to seek Jesus in a cemetery. But he’s not there.
“You just missed him,” the young man as much as says.
Why couldn’t Jesus have waited!? Why do the women need to deal with a proxy, a stand-in, a substitute whose only purpose seems to be to tell the women that, indeed, they just missed Jesus. He’s gone, on the road, moving right along to Galilee. “He’s going ahead of you,” the young man says. So if they want to see Jesus, they need to get going once again themselves. Because for some reason Jesus did not hang around to be encountered at the tomb. Easter morning, according to Mark, is not about running over to where we think Jesus is and then sitting down with him for coffee and conversation. Easter morning is not about throwing a party, it’s about Jesus in motion. It’s about our being in motion, too, if we hope to catch up with and so see him.
Jesus was not there that morning because there was too much work to do! A dying world was in need of the renewing grace which only the resurrected Jesus could give. This was a task that could not wait. Jesus could not and would not hang out at a tomb he no longer needed just to greet his friends and have a little celebration. He had to go on up ahead of them, demanding that if they wanted to see him, they’d have to get moving, too.
So why does Mark end so enigmatically? Why this puzzling final image of bewildered women, silent in their fear? Well, certainly fear was an appropriate thing for these women to feel. Not only did something totally unexpected take place, but this particular unexpected thing was fiercely cosmic. It shattered reality. It changed everything, and the first people to ponder that mind-addling fact were right to feel a little afraid. Any other reaction would have been downright weird!
But what about Mark’s leaving them that way? Why this snapshot of the flight in terror as Mark’s final word? Well, at the very least it creates some tension, a challenge for all of us. We see the silent and fearful women and exclaim, “But the gospel can’t end in silence! There’s just got to be more to the story than this!”
The Gospel cannot end in silence . . .
Yes. Just so.
Perhaps this, then, is where we come in.
“The Gospel cannot end in silence!” Mark agrees, nods his head, looks at the reader and then as much as says, “I know. So what are YOU going to do about that?”
“He’s not here. He’s going ahead of you to Galilee.” Thomas Long—riffing on Donald Juel and perhaps also Ched Meyers—has offered a clever interpretation of those words. Long thinks that Mark was about as highly skilled a writer as you could hope to find in the ancient world. And so for us readers of this gospel–for those of us who cannot and do not literally travel over to Galilee to see if we can find the risen Christ–this reference to Galilee may be a clever framing technique for Mark’s gospel. Jesus is risen, and we are directed to Galilee. But in Mark’s gospel where is Galilee? It’s in Mark 1:14. John the Baptist gets imprisoned and so Jesus launches his own ministry by going to Galilee and there preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand.
So Mark 16:7 may be Mark’s way of saying that as readers we now need to return to the beginning of the gospel and read the whole thing again. Now that we’ve been to the cross, now that we really understand what being the Messiah was all about for Jesus, we need to go back and read the gospel again. We need to hear Jesus’ parables afresh, see the miracles anew. We need to re-consider Jesus’ every word and act in the light of the cross and empty tomb. Because only then will we, by the Spirit, see and understand the nature of God’s kingdom. And the nature of that kingdom is grace, grace, grace.
Now that we’ve seen Jesus take our place on the cross, descending to the derelict agonies of hell and death, now we understand that so long as we think we can make it on our own we’ll never really “get it.”
Computers are powerful tools. Most people under the age of 30 can’t imagine what it was like back in the days of typewriters when every revision of a paper required re-typing the entire thing. Now we store our documents on hard drives or in the cloud and, even if we have already printed a copy, can easily make a few changes, and then re-print it without having to re-type.
One of the advantages of word processing is something called “global replacement.” Let’s say you had written an essay in which you used the word “society” a lot but when you finished you realized that you really should have used “culture.” With global replacement you can tell the computer to find each place the word “society” appears and automatically change it to “culture.” Even if you used “society” 200 times, the computer can change every one of them to “culture” in the blink of an eye.
Sometimes churches utilize this tool for documents that get used a lot. Some time ago I read about a church office which had stored onto its computer the standard funeral service. Each time a funeral had to be held the secretary would tell the computer to find the name of the deceased, replacing it each time with the correct name for this specific funeral. So one week Mary Smith passed away and the secretary had the computer put Mary’s name into all the right spots, such as when the minister would say, “We remember our dear departed sister Mary” or “May the Lord now give Mary his eternal peace.”
The next week Edna Jones died and so the secretary made the appropriate global replacement of names. But it was quite a surprise at this particular funeral when, in the reciting of the Apostles’ Creed, the congregation learned that Jesus had been “born of the virgin Edna”!
Well, that’s a true story but if my relaying this struck you as humorous, it did so because, like a joke, this story concluded with a surprise ending that took you off guard. A few years ago I heard about a curious tradition of the Orthodox Church–each year on Easter Monday they get together to exchange jokes. The idea is that since the Easter story has the ultimate surprise ending, they enter into the spirit of the season by exchanging other stories which also have surprise endings.
Not a bad practice!
Author: Stan Mast
What a delightful, even delicious alternative reading for Easter Sunday! The regular (Old Testament?) reading is from Acts 10:34-43, Peter’s proclamation of the Easter message to the Roman centurion, Cornelius. I wrote on that text last Easter, so I thought I’d give you an alternative way to proclaim the familiar message of Christ’s resurrection—not a narrative sermon on what happened or a doctrinal message on what it all means, but an artistic message on the emotional effect of that event.
Here we have two images—a majestic feast and a mysterious victory—followed by a faith-filled call to rejoice in the God who has revealed himself in those two images. This call to rejoice is a strong counterpoint to the gloom and doom of Isaiah 24. There God devastates the whole earth so thoroughly that the sound of joyous parties with their wine and beer disappears from the earth (cf. Isaiah 24:7-9). Now, here in Isaiah 25 we have the exact opposite, sort of like Easter following Good Friday. Isaiah 24 ends with Yahweh firmly in charge, reigning on Mt. Zion, and Isaiah 25 opens with the joyful confession of faith. “O Yahweh, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name….”
Two images show why joy should follow gloom and doom, why we should rejoice on Easter after the sorrow and darkness of Good Friday. First, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples….” The reference is to Mt. Zion, as 24:23 shows, the place where God chose to dwell symbolically in the Temple. Mt. Zion continues to function even into New Testament times as the place of God’s salvific activity and reign. But with Jesus’ claim that he is the new Temple (cf. Matt. 12:6, John 2:19, and Matt. 26:61) where God is among us in a saving way, the locus of God’s saving work shifts from a place to a person. Thus, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food.
Human beings love a good feast, whether it’s a wedding banquet or a family barbeque on the Fourth of July, a Thanksgiving table sagging with turkey and all the fixings or a funeral wake to which all the mourners have contributed their own food offering, a weekly family dinner after church or a community celebration of some military victory.
The feast in Isaiah 25 is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First, it is prepared by Yahweh himself. How typical of God! The Bible is full of God providing food and drink to his people, sometimes as simple sustenance, other times as sacramental sign, and still other times as a celebration of his victory over the enemies of his people. God meets us in food and drink, even as we meet each other over meals.
Second, God isn’t content with a simple meal here. No, what God has done calls for a “feast of rich food.” And the prophet is specific—the best of meats and the finest aged wines. Now, that may offend the vegans and the abstainers in your church, but the point is that God will go all out to celebrate with his people.
Third, “his people” include “all peoples” and “all nations.” This is not a feast reserved only for God’s chosen nation of Israel. It is for everyone, of whatever national or ethnic group. We may quibble over the exact referent of that universal “all.” Does it mean all people without exception or all people without distinction? Will this feast be for every single human being or for every single kind of human? But the point is that God’s table is open to all who will come to it.
Fourth, the reason for this feast is a victory so monumental that it is nearly incomprehensible. Humans have celebrated victories over enemies since time immemorial. Each time there is hope that this victory will mark the end of battles. Think of WWI, the war to end all wars. But each time, hostility rears its ugly head and death marches over the earth again. But not this time, because in Isaiah 25, and in the Christ to whom it points, God will win the victory over the last enemy, namely, death itself. No wonder God prepares this rich feast.
This victory is pictured in the stunning second image in this text. “On this mountain (that is, through God’s saving activity in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ), Yahweh Almighty will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations.” While some scholars think that “the shroud” refers to a veil worn by mourners at a funeral, it is much more likely that it refers to the large cloth laid over the body of the deceased. Think of the linen cloth (Mt. 28:59) or the strips of linen (John 20:5-7) used at Jesus entombment.
That shroud was laid aside in the tomb of Jesus, as a symbol that Isaiah 25 has been fulfilled. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, that shroud has been destroyed. And in case we don’t understand the artistic language, God is forthright. “God will swallow up death forever,” which Paul quotes in his definitive chapter on the Resurrection, “Death has been swallowed up in victory (I Cor. 15:54).” The great enemy of human life that swallows up both princes and peasants has been swallowed up by God through Christ.
By getting rid of death once and for all, God will wipe away tears from all faces. Never again will there be grief over death, because death will be no more. And, adds verse 8b, “he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” I must confess that I don’t know what that means. Is it a reference to the defeat of God’s people by their enemies, as happened to Israel in the Exile, which caused huge embarrassment and disgrace as “the chosen ones” were dragged off to Exile? Or is it the disgrace that comes to God’s people when, in spite of their claims about salvation through Jesus, we die like everyone else? Or does it refer to the general disgrace that death brings to all of us, as we are diminished and wounded and sunken and corrupted by death?
Whatever it means, the prophet assures us that God’s victory over death on Mt. Zion, through Jesus, will remove disgrace from our lives. And that will lead to joy unbounded, because, at last, God is vindicated, God shows up, God wins. After millenia of prophecies and promises, during which God’s people had to wait (“How long, O Lord?”) and trust in spite of ongoing suffering and death, God will do what he said he would do. As verse 1 of this chapter says, “for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.”
And so, God’s people will shout for joy. “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God…. This is the Lord.’” “We trusted in him and he saved us.” It’s all true. This invisible God whose ways were so often incomprehensible has finally come through completely. Our trust is vindicated because he is faithful. “Let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”
That is our Easter testimony. As Thomas put it, “My Lord and my God!” God has done it. Oh yes, that feast of rich food still awaits the end of time, but we have a foretaste in the Lord’s Supper. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has prepared a table before us in the presence of our Last Enemy. Of course, death still takes every one of us, but it has lost its sting, so we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because of God’s victory in Jesus, we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death with no fear because he is with us.
“In that day,” says the prophet, “let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” That day came on Easter, and it is coming when the Risen One returns. In the meantime, let us cling to these pictures of the story that changed everything.
Isaiah’s picture of a feast reminded me of Thanksgiving Dinners at my late mother-in-law’s house. She cooked for days in preparation. The house was filled with mouth-watering aromas. The tables (three of them to accommodate all the kids and grandkids) sagged with a bewildering variety of meat and vegetables and breads and salads and appetizers and desserts. It didn’t get any better than that. Except that one thing was missing. The thing God promises at his great feast—wine, aged wines, fine wines. Those who struggle with alcohol will not appreciate this feature, but the idea is that wine enhances the best food. We’re not talking about guzzling a bottle of Tickle Pink to get drunk. We’re talking about sipping glasses of Montrachet with dear friends and family to celebrate what God has done. It doesn’t get any better than that.
My grandson asked his grandma to find him a book for school, which she did. She got a copy for me too, so that I could talk with him about it. It was a YA book entitled Thunderhead. It is a dystopian novel in which an immense computer, called Thunderhead, housed in the Cloud now rules over human existence, sort of. I say, sort of, because there are many things Thunderhead cannot do. One of them is control death. Death has been defeated by human science, but people can’t live forever. So, the task of deciding who will die and when has been turned over to the Scythes (think Grim Reaper). The Scythes are humans who have the skill and intelligence and morality to harvest human life in a just and compassionate way. Except that they don’t, always. In fact, they increasingly become selfish and cruel and wicked. Thus, man’s victory over death turns into a nightmare. Which just goes to show that only God can defeat the Last Enemy.
Author: Scott Hoezee
[Note: The Year B Lectionary assigned Psalm 118 for both Passion Sunday and Easter. I chose to post on that for Passion/Palm Sunday last week and the Easter evening Psalm for this week. If you want to see last week’s post on Psalm 118, click here.]
Psalm 114 is a curious choice for Easter Evening by the Revised Common Lectionary. It is a short poem and one that is probably not overly familiar to a lot of churchgoing Christians. It is primarily a metaphorical celebration of the Exodus from Egypt but it goes a bit further than just that event to note also the time God brought forth water from a rock for God’s thirsty people in the wilderness and the time the Jordan opened up so Israel could cross on dry ground into the Promised Land of Canaan.
A couple things are striking about this psalm. First, its metaphorical animating of parts of the creation. Yes, the waters of the Red Sea and later of the Jordan literally parted to let the people cross on dry ground. But Psalm 114 makes this parting out to be a kind of fleeing of the waters, as though those waters were so awed by the presence of God that they just gave way of their own accord. But the poet here animates also mountains and hills, picturing them as leaping and convulsing in awe of God’s presence. The end of the psalm suggests that the whole earth and not just seas and rivers, mountains and hills, ought to tremble before the powerful and majestic presence of its Creator.
We tend to chalk up language like this in the psalms as only metaphorical. A bit further on in the Psalter we will get psalms suggesting that the sun, moon, stars, wind, rain, and hail actively praise God. Or the psalmists will command these seemingly inanimate parts of nature to sing praises to God. Again, we see this as just poetry, as poetic license, as mere metaphor. A rock can’t sing. A hill can’t leap. The moon is not a member of any choir. But is this really just invoking a purely metaphorical image in the Psalter—not to be taken remotely literally—in all these places where different facets of creation are seen as actively praising God? Or in God’s eyes and in God’s ears does the creation’s roaring and trembling and shining and storming really sound like praise? Does God hear the crashing of ocean waves as applause? Does God soak up the warbling melodies of a billion birds on planet earth as being as lovely as the finest Bach chorale?
Maybe. Or perhaps based on the witness of Scripture we should say “Probably.” Let’s not be too hasty in cashing out how valuable the Creation’s just being the Creation is to the Creator God. Perhaps it really is responsive to God’s power and majesty as Psalm 114 suggests. In truth, I like thinking of Creation this way. In past writings I have referred to it as The Ecology of Praise. And to God, this is a treasured truth.
The other thing that ought to strike us from Psalm 114 is more in the category of tragic irony. Yes, yes, when Israel came out of Egypt they became God’s “sanctuary” as verse 1 says. And if we take seriously the response of the created order to those majestic events as God led Israel along out of Egypt and then through the wilderness for 40 years, then we appropriately conclude that there really was a whole lot of majesty going on in and through all those events.
But that’s just the thing: if only ISRAEL had been duly enough impressed to stay obedient to this majestic God who made seas, rivers, mountains, and hills reel in response! I just mentioned the 40 years of wilderness wandering but it only took that long because God punished the people for their failure to be sufficiently impressed by God’s awesome power as to straighten up and fly right for more than a couple days in a row or something. One could, therefore, walk away from Psalm 114 and marvel over the quirky fact that the Creation seemed to “get it” when it came to God’s majesty better than the imagebearers of God in Israel! Again, are we so sure all that talk of the Creation reacting to God is a mere metaphor? Sounds like the overall Creation did better than the crown of creation: human beings!
But we are considering all of this in the context of Easter. So how might Psalm 114 be an apt poem to associate with Christ’s resurrection? A number of connections may be somewhat obvious. First, Christ’s death (and the salvation it made possible) is now the New Israel’s (the Church’s) “Exodus” from sin once and for all. The house of bondage that just is our fallen nature was left behind because of Christ’s sacrifice. And that is the Good News of the Gospel indeed!
Second, Creation also reacted to the events at the end of Holy Week: the earth trembled, rocks split, the skies darkened when Christ was crucified and when Christ died. The Creation once again knew better than some of the people present around the cross that very day what was going on and what it portended for the whole cosmos. And there was a large earthquake when Jesus exited the tomb as well. All of this speaks to the majestic nature of this climax to salvation history.
But the third connection to make to Easter and beyond ties in with the grim irony we noted a moment ago: if only Israel had been as impressed by God’s majesty as the supposedly inanimate Creation was. That, however, loops back to us now. Are we sufficiently awed by God as to dedicate all of our lives to God’s glory? Do we “get it” when it comes to the glory of God’s salvation in Christ at least as well as—and hopefully far better than—the rest of Creation?
That may not be a comfortable question to ask ourselves and yet so much hinges on the answer. Psalm 114 calls on the whole creation to tremble in awe and wonder before God. That would not be a bad posture for our lives just generally.
A rather liberal pastor who said he did not believe in the resurrection as a literal event once said that he thinks he is not the only one who does not really believe in Christ’s rising again. As proof, he said that if he actually believed in Easter, he would be running through the streets daily telling everyone he meets about it. And yet even more conservative Christians who profess a belief in the resurrection don’t spend their lives doing that kind of fervent witnessing. And so, this pastor concluded, are those who reject him for his liberalism all that different in the end?
He has a point. We could counter it by saying that leading transformed lives and how that shows up in how Christians interact with all people and conduct themselves just generally at home and at school and at work is itself a witness to the power of Christ in us. Of course, that does not always happen smoothly or as consistently as we might want either.
But the point remains: do we live and act and talk and behave in ways that show we truly believe that we live in a world where a resurrection took place? And if we can find areas of our lives that show no evidence of celebrating and leaning into that reality, what might we ask the Holy Spirit to help us do about that?
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Author: Doug Bratt
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul tries to clear up some theological misunderstandings about the resurrection. Yet he insists that the Corinthians’ confusion about it isn’t just one among many problems that he’s already addressed. Lack of clarity about the resurrection isn’t like confusion about, for example, sexuality, food offered to idols and lawsuits that plague his first readers.
No, Paul insists that the resurrection is at the very heart of the gospel. So this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers shouldn’t be surprised that talk of the resurrection composes a kind of bookend to his first letter to the Corinthians. The letter that basically begins with his discussion of Jesus’ crucifixion in chapters 1 and 2 now basically ends with a discussion of Jesus’ resurrection.
As one scholar writes, for Paul, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are really like two sides of the same coin. Neither makes any sense to the apostle without the other. Our whole faith and life rest on the foundation that is both Christ’s death and resurrection.
After all, without Christ’s death on the cross, God’s adopted children would be walking a one-way road to hell. Because of Christ’s death, God, among other things, after all, forgives our sins. Without Christ’s resurrection, however, God’s beloved people would have no guarantee we’d survive death in order to eternally enjoy that forgiveness.
Because of Christ’s resurrection, however, Jesus’ friends also enjoy new life not only now, but also after we die. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul says some strong things about the importance of Christ’s resurrection in our text.
He recalls that the Corinthians have taken their “stand,” that they’ve rested all their hope on Jesus’ resurrection (1). Even now, he adds, we’re being saved through the good news of the resurrection if we “hold firmly” (2), if we clutch tightly what Paul teaches us.
So the apostle suggests that Jesus’ resurrection is like the towrope onto which God’s chosen people hold for dear life as we ride up the sometimes-snowy and steep mountain that is our life before God and with each other. The apostle implies that if we somehow “let go of” that resurrection, we’re in danger of plunging back down a steep hill.
Paul’s urgent appeal to the Corinthians suggests that some of them have already let go of that towrope that is the gospel of Christ’s resurrection. Some seem to have forgotten that faith to which God had called them through him. Others are in danger of moving the house that is their faith off its foundation that is the resurrection and putting it on sand.
Yet Paul refuses to give up on those wavering Corinthians. He begs them to listen to the gospel again. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t, after all, some myth that began with the apostle. Paul insists that the gospel is a testimony to what God did at a particular time in a particular place. It’s a witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to claim that the risen Jesus somehow appeared to eyewitnesses who didn’t just imagine or make this up. Paul, in fact, lists the witnesses to whom Christ appeared after God raised him from the dead. In fact, he insists that most of the people to whom Christ appeared are “still living” (6). That means if the Corinthians somehow doubted Jesus’ resurrection, they could have checked with one of those witnesses.
The Jesus who died on the cross is the One who also showed himself to be alive after God raised him back to life. This calls for not just a theory of resurrection, but a confession of faith from his grateful followers — Christ is alive!
However, the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection is also a profession of faith that his adopted brothers and sisters pray God will graciously use to help awaken faith in others. Profession, after all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, leads to profession. Speaking of what God has done for God’s people in Christ helps others to see what God is doing for them in Christ.
Paul, in fact, adds his own profession to the Church’s profession. He says Christ “appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (5). Then, however, the apostle adds his own profession in verse 6: “After that,” Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, he appeared to me also.”
That’s why while Paul understands that he has a big job, he also knows he doesn’t deserve that vital job. He didn’t, after all, know Jesus personally. Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. He didn’t experience the confusion that the risen Christ turned to joy on the first Easter. The Holy Spirit didn’t descend on and fill the apostle on the first Pentecost.
In fact, Paul initially actually persecuted the Church. He witnessed and, in fact, approved of Stephen’s martyrdom. What’s more, Paul met the risen Christ only as he was on his way to capture and imprison Christians. That’s why Paul refers to himself as “one abnormally born” (8), literally as a miscarried fetus. When the risen Christ appeared to him, after all, he was basically dead.
So only by God’s grace are Paul, those who proclaim his 1 Corinthians 15 message, or, for that matter, any of Jesus’ followers what we are. By that same grace, God also equips Paul as well as his brothers and sisters in Christ to work hard to spread the gospel of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
That proclamation both frames our text and sets an agenda for the lives of God’s beloved children. Paul begins this text by reminding his readers of the “gospel” he “preached” (1) to them. He ends it by reiterating that he and the other apostles “preach” that gospel (12). God wishes to use that preaching to graciously bring many other people to faith in the risen Christ.
In the rest of the chapter, Paul lays out the implications of that great gospel. He shows why his preaching and the Corinthian believing can’t be in vain. If, after all, Christ isn’t alive, we’re pitiful fools who are just wasting our time.
It’s that same message we bring to friends, neighbors, co-workers and the world. It’s our only sure hope in a world plagued by so much hopelessness: Christ is alive and will someday return to redeem all things, including the messes we’ve made for our neighbors, the creation and ourselves.
In her shocking short story, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor describes the Misfit, a murderer with a conscience who’s about to kill an elderly woman. Before he does so, however, he talks about Jesus’ resurrection. It changes everything, he insists. It, in fact, seems to haunt him.
“’Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead’,” The Misfit … [said], “and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,’ he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.“