Truth for Life

Peace Presbyterian Church
1 Corinthians 15:1-11; 51-58
Easter Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Paul was not even there at the empty tomb when the women came and heard the angel say, “He is not here, but is risen.” Paul was not there in the upper room when Jesus appeared to the twelve. In fact, Paul persecuted those who were there and those who first believed the news about Christ. So why should we listen to what he says about the resurrection? Because Paul’s testimony is truth for life.

Many churches will be reading one of the four gospel narratives this morning, and we usually do that too, but this year, I thought turn our focus to 1 Corinthians 15, which was actually written down earlier than any of the Gospel stories.

First Corinthians 15 aims to counter the belief, apparently held by some members of the church in Corinth, that there is no resurrection of the dead. Paul writes a long and complex chapter to persuade the Corinthians that believing in the resurrection of the Christ is essential to the faith. This earliest scriptural witness to the Easter event asserts both the death of Jesus Christ and also his resurrection as confirmed in his appearances to the disciples. By citing the Easter tradition and extending the list of appearances (vv. 6–8), Paul calls the Corinthians back to the fundamental ground they share with him, that God did indeed raise Christ from the dead. This is truth for life – that death, while still agonizing, death, while still painful and capable of causing deep grief, death does not have the final word. Death has been overwhelmed by the life of Christ.

Glory to you, O God: on this day you won victory over death,
raising Jesus from the grave and giving us eternal life.
Glory to you, O Christ: for us and for our salvation you overcame death
and opened the way to everlasting life.
Glory to you, O Holy Spirit: you lead us into the truth.
Glory to you, O Blessed Trinity, now and forever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11, 51-58

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,
2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you-- unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: 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, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them-- though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

As Paul reminded the Corinthians of the life-giving truth in which they stood, so I remind you. We come to worship to be reminded weekly of the good news of our salvation, so that our faith will be authentic and enduring, especially in difficult times .

C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscious and shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain is God’s megaphone. I read this quote in a piece in Washington Post, written by one of my daughter Catherine’s Furman University classmates, twenty-two years old. She says, “My whole life prior to cancer, the Lord has been whispering to me, and at times even speaking to me, to remind me of His presence and love. But my diagnosis became like a megaphone, blaring the Lord’s love for all to hear. Christian and non-Christian friends alike all gathered to pray for me in those dark days. The Lord had to constantly remind me that it is He who controls my life, not the doctors or the statistics I was facing each day. Cancer has been a turning point in my life that I never could have dreamed of, and I know that my life will never be the same. But despite the hard times and the multitudes of tears, the Lord has been protecting me every step of this journey. Whether I live, and one day become cancer free, or I die, I know without a doubt that God is good, and that does not change based on my circumstances. For now, I can rest in the assurance that the Lord is looking out for me, and therefore I can simply strive to live life joyfully for every day that I am given.” (P. Thompson) Amazing truth coming from a twenty-two year old!

That’s an Easter perspective, if I ever heard one. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the grace bestowing life.”

This is the good news that compels us pull out every instrument, and fill the choir with nearly 40 voices singing the Hallelujah Chorus. You may have heard that Handel wrote the Messiah in 24 days, but did you know he was depressed and in great debt when he did this? There is something about hopelessness that coupled with faith has the power to witness in powerful ways to the truth that gives life.

Confronted by our hopelessness in sin and death, Christ interceded by offering himself in order to reconcile us to God. With no power but the power of love, Christ defeated sin, evil, and death by dying for us. He even took on the agony of our abandonment by God to spare us.

You know how when someone does something for you that is beyond the call of duty, when someone really extends themselves to help you, how grateful do you feel? How loved do you feel? When you’ve been a pain in the patooty to someone in your family or to a best friend and they go right on loving you without missing a beat? Can you get in touch with those feelings? Can you multiply in your mind’s heart to the nth degree? Then you are beginning to get a glimpse at understanding what a debt of gratitude you owe to Jesus Christ for your salvation.

Paul recites what sounds like the Nicene Creed “Christ was buried and raised on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures. Then he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then to five hundred brothers and sisters, then to James, then to the apostles.” And Paul adds, and last to me, because I persecuted the church. Paul calls himself an apostle because he had a unique encounter with the risen Lord, but he also deems himself unworthy of the title.

Some of us have a confident faith and others are doubting. Some of us are humble, and others are proud, but that’s nothing new. From the first day of the resurrection, there were those who doubted, Thomas among them. Until he could see for himself, he was not going to take someone else’s word for it. Likewise, Paul, to be converted, had to be blinded by the light of Christ, knocked to the ground, without vision for three days. He was accused by a voice from heaven, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Some of you have had dramatic experiences like Paul while others of us have had or are having more of a gradual awakening to the love of God. Each of us has our own story of the presence of Christ in our lives, even if we are only becoming aware of that presence.

Our call is to be like Paul – to be witnesses of that truth for life. To proclaim it to others so that they too might believe. Those who proclaim it against all odds, like the college student at Furman with cancer, have a particularly compelling message.

Because Christ lives, we will live also. We will be given imperishable bodies to replace our perishable ones. The resurrection of the body celebrates our eternal value to God as living persons, each one with a unique and distinctive identity. The resurrection of the body means hope for the whole person, in the unity of body and soul. How did Christ appear? Christ was heard, seen, and touched in person, after the discovery of an empty tomb. Christ was different in the resurrection. He appeared and disappeared, but he had a body that could be touched.

Now what does this mean when we die? Many of us simply think we are done with our bodies when we die and that it is our souls that go to be with God. But this text and the Apostles’ Creed which we will say together in a few minutes both affirm the resurrection of the body, not just the soul. When the last trumpet sounds, we will be changed.

How can the difference Christ has made in your life be made a real and compelling story for others that touches their own deepest needs? The story Paul shared with the Corinthians did that. Our own stories of life and faith should do the same. They should build up the faith of others with a truth that is life-giving, not life-draining. They should not only be our stories, but they should be connected to the faith tradition which has been passed down to us. (JEFFREY D. JONES, Feasting on the Word)

Presbyterian professor of preaching, Tom Long writes: Christians are on the witness stand to tell that story, not because it is a likely story or an advantageous piece of testimony, but because it is true. We know it is true because we ourselves have experienced it and witnessed its truth. That is why we are on the witness stand and have taken the oath to tell the truth “so help us God.”

So we declare that Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord. We announce today and for the next fifty days of Easter that Christ’s resurrection is a decisive victory over the powers that deform and destroy life. We do not yet see the end of suffering and death, but in Christ we get a glimpse of the new creation that has begun and will surely be completed one day, when there will be no more tears or pain, when the fellowship of God with all God’s people will be perfected. Ultimately death is no match for God. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s victory over death for all of us. We are convinced that the life God wills for us is stronger than the death that destroys us. In the face of death, we grieve, yet in hope we celebrate the life that God gives us. (several quotes from A Declaration of Faith, chapters 4 and 10)

Death is a broken power. It has lost its sting. It has lost its grip. Where, O Death is your trophy? Don’t you see, Death, you will never win. This is the truth. This is the life – that you, Death, never get the last word. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s why we are singing no less than 185 hallelujahs in this service because we can do none other than to praise God for this truth, this life, this victory over death, in which we stand.