What Would Paul Preach Today?
This is the Easter sermon for 2013. Pastor Jim Kniseley delivered this message at Resurrection on March 31, 2013, the Festival of the Resurrection. The sermon text is I Corinthians 15:19-20, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
He is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
For this Easter sermon, I would like to invite a witness from the 1st century AD to help me. That witness is St. Paul. Paul wasn’t present at the empty tomb on the Day of Resurrection. He wasn’t even a follower of Jesus at that time. But God granted him a vision and the risen Jesus spoke to him, and from that day onward he was one of the most inspiring witnesses that the Body of Christ has ever known. Paul has more book or letters in the Bible than any other person. He wrote most of these letters before the 4 gospels were recorded.
It’s interesting to me that Paul never describes the details of Easter morning in his writings. The details that you and I so eagerly seek out, like “who came that morning to the tomb” and “what was the message of the angels” and “what was the reaction of the disciples” don’t seem all that important to Paul. What is important to Paul is what this sermon is about today.
Our second lesson today is from Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth. The church there had a controversy among the members about the meaning of resurrection. They all believed that Jesus had been brought back to life, “resurrected” by God, as a one-time special miracle. The controversy was over the idea that there would then be a general resurrection, that Christ is the first fruits of resurrection for all.
In case there is any doubt about what Paul believes, we hear these words again from I Corinthians 15: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
Paul may not describe the details of Jesus’ resurrection, but he does seem to value something that happened in the afternoon of that first Easter. Two followers of Jesus are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus and are really sad because of the death of Jesus. They have not yet heard that he has been raised from the dead. Jesus himself joins them on their walk but they do not recognize him. He explains to them what the scriptures say about God’s Messiah. When they come to an inn, they stop for a meal. When Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, they recognized Jesus, and Jesus disappeared from their sight.
I believe that the Emmaus Story is recorded in scripture as a help to all of us who were not personally present to see the risen Jesus. We are called to believe not by seeing with these eyes and hearing with these ears, but by seeing with the eyes of faith and hearing with the ears of faith. This comes most often in hearing scripture and receiving the body and blood of Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
We think that the first words ever written in the Bible about Holy Communion come from the pen of St. Paul when he writes these familiar words in I Corinthians 11 (23-26): For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thank, he broke and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Easter can be a sad day or a happy day, depending upon your perspective and belief. The first Easter after my mother died, I did something that I had never done before. After worship, my father and I drove to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California. I was surprised by the long line of cars to get into the cemetery. Once we got in, we drove by lots of families who were gathered near the graves of their departed loved ones and they were having picnics and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Many were Immigrant Christians. What impressed me was that they had no doubt of the resurrection, not only of Jesus but of their loved ones, and someday for themselves.
That’s the spirit that St. Paul wants for all believers today. As Paul declares today: The last enemy to be destroyed by Christ is death.
On this Festival of the Resurrection 2013, we again joyously proclaim our belief not only in Jesus’s resurrection, but also the hope of our own resurrection:
He is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!