The ‘So What?’ of Easter
- Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Sunday, April 4, 2010
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Sometimes a chance conversation can shed as much light on a text as several commentaries. A long time member of a congregation went out to lunch with me after we'd attended a Sunday service. "What did you think of the sermon?" she asked at one point. I made some non committal reply, not wanting to admit I hadn't paid close attention. She expressed frustration with the minister's preaching. "He's a good man, and I think he must work hard on sermon preparation; but what comes out of his mouth is a mish-mash of stories and information. I have no idea what he was trying to say. I'm never sure what point he's trying to make."
In the seminary where I teach, a student wanted feedback about the sermon he had just preached in chapel. He'd ambitiously attempted a first person monologue, assuming the character of someone in exile in Babylon who now remembered the words of the prophet Jeremiah. It was a well crafted message, and he did a fine job of ‘staying in character.' With courageous honesty, he now put the question to me, "When I was finished, did you ask yourself ‘So what?' Did the sermon make any claim on your life and circumstances? ‘Cause that's what I think a sermon should do."
Two people: one a listener, the other preacher. They were different ages, sexes and denominations; but they shared an underlying conviction about the gospel: that it ought to make a difference. It ought to be able to answer the question, ‘So what?' Both believed the truth of Jesus Christ makes a claim on people—and that a Christian witnessing to that claim should be as clear and distinct as possible.
On Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to admit with Paul that "We tell a mystery" (1 Corinthians 15:51). The New Testament gives testimonies about the death and resurrection of the Savior, but not step-by-step instructions for reconstructing or replicating the event. We bear witness, not proof, as we share the gospel with others. No wonder it's hard to find the words that will make a claim on those who hear us! Paul knew well how a disciple, whether minister or layperson, must seek the right words to answer the "So what?" question coming from inside and outside the church.
Paul was speaking to a mixed group, too. In the church at Corinth, there were people who thought they already knew all about Jesus Christ. There were others who couldn't agree about what was most important for disciples to believe and do, and still others who had mingled the gospel with the beliefs and practices of other religions. So the apostle was trying to set the record straight in this chapter—about what happened then regarding Jesus' death and resurrection and what difference it made for those who heard his letter. In a diverse, pagan, promiscuous culture—not so unlike our own—he set forth the "So what?" of Easter.
I. The Resurrection Is Different from the Physical World We Experience Now
Further on in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says plainly, "What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. While using metaphors from nature that would be familiar to everyone, Paul stops short of saying the resurrection is like the cycle of birth, life and death we know in the natural world. In the same way, we should bear witness today that resurrection is not the same as reincarnation; it is not the endless cycle of the seasons. It is not merely a symbolic or poetic way of talking about the ongoing influence of a great person whose work or ideas are preserved from one generation to the next. Resurrection is a different life, a new life.
II. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ Is an Historical Event that Vindicates Who Jesus Is
If Jesus were divine but not also human, His death would not have been real. If Jesus were human but not also divine, He would be just another good person in history. His physical death would be tragic, but not salvific. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins; but Jesus died because of human sin, and God the Father raised Him from the dead. That makes an enormous difference for the human race.
III. We Shall Be Resurrected Through Christ
Our hope in this life and the next is Jesus Christ. More than a good teacher and moral example, "in Christ shall all be made alive." His resurrection is not an exception but a beginning: The "first fruits" of the resurrection of all who belong to Christ. The nature of the resurrection cannot be comprehended fully by human intellect. As the writer of 1 John 3:2 wrote, "It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
The witness of Easter is "Christ is risen!" What difference does that make? The difference between death and life for all who bear His name. Alleluia!
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