Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 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...
…The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection’, it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 & 26-28 (NRSVA)
The Apostle Paul clearly believes the death and resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to the story of God and the hope of the church.
Just prior to our reading, the death and resurrection of Jesus is named as being of ‘first importance’. There Paul hopes that the Corinthian people would ‘stand’ and ‘hold firmly’ to this account. He claims that was the case when he first heard the gospel and that it remains true even as he writes.
In fact the resurrection is so central that Paul outlines all those the resurrected Jesus appeared to. It is quite a list: Cephas (Peter), the twelve, 500 others, James, and the apostles. And then last on this list, of course, is the apostle Paul himself.
Yet Paul is far from satisfied with simply reminding the church of these resurrection witnesses. So he goes on, in the reading above, to spell out just how central the resurrection of Jesus is to our future hope.
The reality of the resurrection of Jesus is vitally linked, the Apostle insists, with our future resurrection. Paul insists that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (v17), and, that if all this is a hoax, then, ’…those who have died in Christ have perished’ (v18). Paul then reinforces this in the most unforgettable language: ‘If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be most pitied’.
Of course Paul quickly moves to much better news: for ‘…in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’ (15:20).
And this is the reality that changes everything.
To communicate this, Paul uses the beautiful image of ‘first-fruits’. First fruits are the fruits that a young tree bares in the year that it first produces. They are often small – and maybe even inedible. Yet, they are an inherent promise of more to come.
A tree that produces first fruits will produce more!
And this is the image Paul chooses as he considers the resurrection of Jesus. You see, the resurrection of Jesus is a preview of what God would have for all who believe.
Paul also talks here about death as ‘the last enemy’.
Have you ever read through the gospels and considered all the accounts of healing, and forgiveness, and teaching about the law? Every one of these accounts speaks of the authority of Jesus. He heals the sick as a demonstration of his authority over disease; he forgives as a demonstration of his authority over sin; he sets people free from the law as a demonstration that he holds authority over the law.
The ultimate ‘authority over’, however, is demonstrated in the events of Easter. Jesus’ death and resurrection is a demonstration of his authority over death itself.
The church is, at its core, a community learning to trust Jesus.Our faith in God grows each time we trust – discovering more and more that God is good, and faithful, and loving. We might trust God with our finances, our health, our family, our shortcomings – in fact with anything that we are concerned by or afraid of. Each time we trust God – we learn to trust God a little bit more.
And if we discover that we can trust this God with all these fears – our faith can become deep and authentic enough to even trust God with our own death.
We can face the certainty of our own death trusting the one who conquered death to show us a path through death.
Of course, this hope is not yet realised – any more than the first-fruits of a tree are the final reality. Our ultimate hope is that all death – including our own – will be conquered when Jesus finally puts all things under the authority of God.
Then, mysteriously, as Paul says, God will be all in all!
Participation in that resurrected creation is ultimately our hope, dream, and vision as followers of the resurrected Jesus.
If you were to share the centre of the Christian faith, what would you talk about? How central would the death of Jesus be to this story? How central would the resurrection of Jesus be?
Have you ever considered the metaphor of ‘first-fruits’ as a radical promise of resurrection for all? Have you ever read the resurrection accounts as a description of your future?
Paul concludes this passage with ‘…God may be all in all’. What do you think this says about the extent of the first-fruits image? How far does this resurrection hope go for Paul?