Now if it is proclaimed that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor. 15:12-20).
From 1984 to 2004 William Willimon served as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. In an article written years ago for Leadership Journal, Willimon recalled a particular Easter sermon in which he sought to make it clear that Christians do not speak of resurrection as a symbol or metaphor.
Easter is not about “the flower budding in springtime or the butterfly emerging from the cocoon.” Willimon suggested that such images, while nice, are more akin to pagan ideas that don’t have anything to do with the Christian celebration of Easter. Easter, Willimon insisted, is about a dead man that got up and started walking around again.
After the service, as Dr. Willimon shook hands at the chapel doors, one student said to him, “I want to thank you for saying exactly what it is I don’t believe.”
Willimon recalled the moment fondly. The true meaning of Easter had been proclaimed clearly, and he appreciated the student’s honest response to that proclamation.
Do We Know Better?
Today I want to ask you about your response.
Is there anything in you that hesitates when the creed says that “on the third day he rose again from the dead?” Do you secretly struggle with those closing words that affirm our faith in the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting?”
I’ll confess that sometimes I wonder if, among the many people who eagerly attend (or watch) a service of worship on Easter morning, there are some who politely listen to the story without believing a word of it. After all, this is the 21st century. We are an advanced society, possessing an understanding of things that the ancients simply could not comprehend. Science must be taken seriously, which usually means that all talk of resurrection becomes metaphor. Dead people don’t get up and walk around. (Right?)
Sure, Jesus is alive – but he’s alive in the memory of those who love and follow him. He lives in their acts of love and service to our neighbors and those in need.
I like the sound of that. But it’s not Christianity.
An Old Question
What I’m describing here is really not new at all.
In the church the apostle Paul had established in the city of Corinth there were professing Christians, members of the church, who said the same kind of thing. What is clear to us from Paul’s letter to them (we call it 1 Corinthians) is that some of them were saying there is no resurrection of the dead.
Paul was baffled. The cross and resurrection had been at the heart of his message to them. It was a matter of first importance (15:1). And yet some of them were dismissing the resurrection. Seems the sophisticates in the city of Corinth weren’t too different from the sophisticates in New York or Chicago.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul confronts this head-on.
Take some time this week and read 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 and 35-44.
We’ll take a closer look at Paul’s words later in the week – but for today, linger with what we affirm when we speak the words of the creed.
We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Is that a confident affirmation for you? Or maybe a hopeful expression, or a nice thought? What do you make of the resurrection of the body?
Gracious God – we confess that the is much about the resurrection that we cannot fully grasp. It is a mystery, but a mystery which we confidently embrace. Help us to speak with bold trust in the truth of resurrection life. And let us live this day in the strong hope of that truth, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.