Resurrection In Life: A Homily for the
Sixth Sunday After Epiphany. Preached
at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 13
Readings for This Sunday: Jer 1.5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15.12-20; Lk 6.17-26.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith
is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Cor 15.17).
I never regret going to our Monday night
Zoom bible studies because I always hear someone say something that challenges
me and makes me think. Last week our
group wrapped up its reading of the gospel of Mark, and someone asked, “why
does Jesus have to die?”
That’s a great question, with many possible
answers. One could start by saying
that he dies to show the love of God, which takes the full brunt of human fear
and hatred and can still show forgiveness.
A second answer might be to show man’s inhumanity to man, even to the
most innocent man that ever lived, though one wonders why that needed proving
when history is full of examples of cruelty.
The best answer, I think, and the one I
would give, is that Jesus had to die to rise again. St. Paul would certainly say the same
thing. For Paul, writing to the early
church in Corinth, the resurrection is everything. We don’t know exactly what was happening in
the church in Corinth. Like any church
it had its squabbles and disagreements, but Paul has evidently heard that
there’s an argument over the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. “[S]ome of you”, Paul writes, “say that there
is no resurrection” (1 Cor 15.12).
Now it may surprise us to find that people
in Paul’s time had doubts. Weren’t the
early Christians very faithful because they lived so close to the time of Jesus
when belief was fresh and new? Weren’t
ancient people less rational and more credulous than we are today in the
post-Enlightenment, scientific West?
Well, no. At the beginning of his
letter to the Corinthians, Paul came out and said that his preaching on the
cross seemed like “foolishness” to many (1 Cor 1.18-25). Now when Paul talks
about “the cross”, he’s talking about the whole story of the Passion, which
ends with the empty cross and the empty tomb. I am sure there were many in 1st
century Corinth who found it just as hard to believe that a crucified Jewish
criminal could rise from the dead as people in 21st century Canada
find it hard to believe today.
I know that people find it hard to believe
in the resurrection because I’ve met them, and some of them were
Anglicans! I well remember one
parishioner, an urbane, cultured man, who absolutely loved church music. Once, after our Easter Sunday service, he
said to me, “It’s just a children’s story, isn’t it? You don’t really believe it, do you?” I confess that I kind of spluttered for a
bit. “Yes,” I said, “I do believe it,
because I think it’s true.” When he
pressed me further to say why I thought it was true, I said that while I
couldn’t prove it, I thought it was the best story I could find to make sense
of the world. I still think that.
If Christ has not been raised,
your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
I won’t put any of you on the spot and ask
you if you believe the resurrection happened.
I honestly wouldn’t think any the less of you it you told me that you
struggled with it. I’ve heard many
Anglicans tell me that they have trouble believing everything that’s in the
creeds. In fact, the preacher Barbara
Taylor Brown likes to say that we see the creed together because on days when
you find it too hard to say, someone else will say it for you, and vice versa.
So no harm, no foul, if you’re sometimes
relying on the next pew to finish the creed for you. I get that.
It’s why we’re church as the body of Christ and not just a bunch of fragmented
individuals. Perhaps the mistake we
make in belief is thinking that faith has to reside just in the creeds, that it
has to be head knowledge as opposed to heart knowledge. Frank Crouch, a biblical scholar, made a
really good point in my reading this week when he said that Paul doesn’t say that
we need to believe in the resurrection so our theology is correct. No, Paul is saying instead that the
resurrection is real. We can see the
reality of the resurrection in changed and transformed lives, starting with
Paul himself, who went from persecutor of Christ to a preacher of Christ
In other words, we can see resurrection, we
can understand it and believe in it, by looking around us. Speaking for myself, I’ve never seen someone
raised from the dead, not physically. I
have seen people raised from the dead in other ways that were just as
meaningful or even more so.
Here are some resurrection stories that
help me make sense of the world. I know
a beloved priest, a gifted and caring pastor, who gave up his career as a
stockbrocker because he thought a life of greed was killing him. That
was resurrection. I’ve seen a young
father, an alcoholic, pulled back from divorce and ruin by his the love and
care of his friends in AA. That was resurrection I’ve seen a soldier, who lost his legs to a
roadside bomb, teach himself to run marathon s on steal springs because he
would never, ever see himself as crippled or as a victim. That was resurrection I’ve seen a woman, her body ruined and mocked
by cancer, face her death with grace and serenity because she knew that God
would take her hand and bring her across the void to the other side. That too was resurrection, or at least the
anticipation of something as certain as sunrise the next morning.
Perhaps you think I’m stretching the point
here, or cheating a bit, because these examples of resurrection are
metaphorical. Perhaps, but I’ve also
seen the absence of resurrection in real and tragic cases. I’ve seen people who were so far gone in
addiction that they couldn’t take responsibility for the harm they were doing
to others. I’ve seen people so far gone
in grief that they had all but ceased to live.
I’ve seen people so far gone in anger and trauma that they had alienated
everyone around them. Not every story
has a happy ending. Lives can be wasted
and ruined. You don’t need to be a
corpse to be resurrected, but without resurrection, you can be one of the
When Paul talks about resurrection, he’s
talking about the transformation that God can work in our lives. Without God’s resurrection power, without
transformation, our lives become stunted and withered, which is what Paul means
when he says “If Christ has not been raised … you are still in your sins”(1 Cor
15.17). Without resurrection, there is
no forgiveness that saves a marriage from betrayal. Without resurrection, there is no love that
leads an estranged child home. Without
resurrection, there is no regard for the poor, no care for the homeless, no
peacemaking, no reconciliation between peoples, no need for us to do anything
but grimly and soullessly pursue our own empty pleasures. Without resurrection, there is no one into
whose care we can give and commend our beloved dead.
Resurrection is always the triumph of life
over death, of hope over despair, of new beginnings over wasted potential. Resurrection is God’s assurance that we aren’t
trapped in living deaths in a meaningless void
So why does Jesus have to die? He has to die to show us the way back to
life, new life, our best life, the life that only Jesus can give to us, both
after our lives, and in the here and now of our lives.