Sermon, February 20, 2022 – Epiphany VII

A Mystery

          First of all, I want to thank everyone for your prayers and support these past several weeks.  I especially want to thank Mother Diane Reeves for filling in on the past two Sundays – I needed the break.

          This morning our Epistle reading continues to explore St. Paul’s understanding of the resurrection as the core belief in the Christian faith.  He has made it perfectly clear in his letter to the Corinthians that if there is no resurrection – if the Christ has not been raised, then everything we do, say, believe, pray and act is meaningless.  For us, as Christians, the whole thing revolves around the resurrection.

          While Paul proclaims the centrality of the resurrection, he makes no attempt to explain the “how” of the resurrection.  He is content to leave that in the realm of mystery (15: 51ff).  Paul uses an illustration from agriculture. A seed that is sown must disintegrate before the life it contains can grow into something new and greater. Only by dying is it able to live again. Yet there is continuity; for if wheat is planted, more wheat, not another grain, will grow. “But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body” (1 Cor. 15:38). Similarly, the physical body that is perishable will be raised in a state that is imperishable.

Just as death came into the world by one person (Adam), the Resurrection also came into the world through one person (Jesus). As we live in a body like that of earthly Adam, so we will have a body like that of heavenly Jesus. Thus, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v. 49).

          Christ is the first fruits of eternal life, and in due course, those who are in Christ will also inherit the realm to which he has become heir. The existence of the physical body hints of the reality of what the spiritual body will someday be —like a full-grown plant that rises from a seed.

          “So, it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (15:42). We begin to grasp the reality of this hope as we contemplate the Risen Jesus. The good news for us is that we, made one with Christ, may look to him as our strength and our redemption, now and forever.

          This text is not simply about resurrection, it is about redemption. God will take the brokenness and perishability of the creation and will redeem it into a new creation, seed to plant, earth to heaven. The first part is required for the second part — God does not make a new creation out of nothing but redeems the current creation from its beginnings and its temporality into a new eternal creation. The concept of recapitulation is what is being done here, and again in the Joseph story — by Joseph’s brothers came the death of the father’s favorite, by God, through Joseph, came the redemption of the whole family.

          The other thing that Paul’s writing to the Corinthians does is put to rest the idea of the immortality of the soul, a popular heresy among the churches.  We believe in the resurrection of the body.  It is not that we have some eternal aspect which is preserved from death, rather the whole of us, body and all, will be redeemed, resurrected, transformed, by the power of the living God.  If we hope only for our souls, why do we bother trying to stay healthy, or avoid pain? Immortality of the soul is for Stoics; resurrection is for Christians.

          So, what does this have to do with us on the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany?  Simply this, we are called, invited, and encouraged to live a life of abundant love and grace because we live within the assurance of the resurrection – meaning that death will NEVER ever have the final word in our lives.  We have been redeemed and raised to new life in Jesus the Christ, and for that, we give thanks to God. Amen.

Hymns sung this Sunday (Episcopal Hymnal 1982)

  • Praise To The Lord, The Almighty #390
  • In The Cross of Christ I Glory #441
  • Lord, Make Us Servants Of Your Peace #593
  • I Come With Joy #304
  • Love Divine All Loves Excelling #657

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