Text: I Corinthians 15
Title: A Dialogue with Paul on "The Spiritual Body": I Corinthians 15
Introduction: The January Holy Lands travel seminar journeyed on the road that has led to and from Damascus, Syria for thousands of years. The Apostle Paul, our chosen partner in conversation on the creed's confession "I believe in the resurrection of the body" is the one who himself traveled that same road. All semester in seminar, worship, and church school settings I have been affirming this article of the Creed and asking what we think we mean when we so affirm. So, this morning I thought we'd turn to Paul for help. His encounter there on this road with the resurrected Jesus transformed his life into an apostolic sending and he preached about transformation and change for the duration of his ministry of redeemed slavery to God in Christ. Our first reading from Romans 6, the triplet tradition in Acts 9, 22, and 26, and his own testimony in I Corinthians 9 are poignant witnesses to this proclamation. While all of his reflections, some of which were already read among the scriptures today and yesterday in worship by this week's chapel team and shall be read on Friday, are always the stuff of instructive provocation, nowhere are his developments more promising for our quest to understand the resurrection body than those which come directly after his commentary on the Eucharist in I Corinthians, namely, chs. 12-15, esp. chapter 15, often called in fact "the resurrection chapter of the Bible." It is, as you know, a somewhat lengthy text whose impact is much more the result of its totality than its individual parts. What follows then may not be a sermon at all but is more like a dialogical reading seeking to become a sermon. It is ok perhaps to risk such a thing in a community of scholars.
Prayer for Illumination
This is Paul:
(v. 1) I am pursuing our conversation, brothered-ones [translated here not with brothers and sisters, but as a term of inheritance], with respect to the gospel with which I gospeled you, the gospel which you also received, in which you also stand and through which you are also being saved (by God [diving passive]), if you all stay grounded in the starting point with which I gospeled you, lest you all came to believe in vain. (v. 3) For I passed on to you among those first things that which also I received: that Christ died on behalf of our sins according to the scriptures, (v. 4) and that he was buried (by God) and that he was raised (by God; divine passives?] on the third day according to the scriptures, (v. 5) and that he appeared [w!fqh; divine causation?] to Cephas, then to the Twelve, (v. 6) then he appeared [w!fqh] to more than five hundred brothered-ones at one time, of whom the majority are still alive until now, though some of them have fallen asleep in death. (v. 7) Then he appeared [w!fqh] to James, then to all the apostles; (v. 8) and finally, at the end of them all, as through an extraordinary birth, he also appeared [w!fqh] to me. (v. 9) For I am the peculiar one among the apostles, the one who does not deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God; (v. 10) yet, by the grace of God I am what I am and God's grace that was poured into me has not become fruitless, but rather I labored more than all the rest; well, not I but the grace of God that was with me. (v. 11) Therefore, whether it was I or those others, we preached thus and you believed thus.
Dialogue: How do you start to talk about something for which there is no precedent in human history? Paul, you could have done it our way and told "your story"...the eye-witness way, but you didn't. You passed on the tradition you received...when exactly was that when you received it?...it ends with appearances and preaching. Is that what was going on in that earliest window in time when the church was born, the decade window of ca. A.D. 35-45 before gospels and epistles were ever written? It appears you regard your entry into that earliest dialogue as an extra-ordinary act of the resurrected One. Is there such a thing as an ordinary one? Is it your voice in the dialogue and not the measure of your own experience that motivates your choice not to begin with the existentialist's pleasure? Were you also struggling with the content of that which was seen - the resurrection body - that which was to become the conclusions (or was it the beginnings?) to the gospel accounts to come? Did you ever think to write a gospel yourself? You do say "your gospel" in the earliest of your epistles; if you had written one how would you have ended the "gospel according to Paul?" Would you too have drawn on the theophanic backgrounds of your Bible? ...those of-old appearances of God in human form?
(v. 12) Now, if Christ is being preached [divine passive?] as the One who was raised [by God] from among the dead ones, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead ones? (v. 13) If there is no resurrection of the dead ones, neither has Christ been raised [by God]. (v. 14) And if Christ has not been raised [by God], then the kerygma of us all is empty, and the faith of you all is empty. (v. 15) And we also turn out to be God's false witnesses because we have born witness according to God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise, if indeed then the dead ones are not raised [by God]. (v. 16) For if the dead ones are not raised [by God], neither has Christ been raised [by God]. (v. 17) And if Christ has not been raised [by God], your faith is futile, you are yet in your sins. (v. 18) And those then who have fallen into death's sleep in Christ are lost. (v. 19) If in this life only we are living out Christian hope [periphrastic tense] we are actually more pitiable than all other mortals.
Dialogue: You sound like you yourself are in dialogue with another creedal apothegm: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you shall be saved." (Rom. 10:9f) Why is "Lord" i.e. "Raised" so important to you/us? What does the one have to do with the other? Sometimes it seems to "inquiring (Christian) minds" that "empty, futile, lost, and pitiable" are more the result of this doctrine of bodily resurrection than that from which we are delivered by trying to figure it out...unless, of course, it is not in the first instance a doctrine at all!? We confess your lordship when we pray "Thy will be done..." are we believing in our hearts when we say "I believe in the resurrection of the body"?? Who is to say? When have we seen what we are looking at...bodily resurrection?
(v. 20) But now [nuniv deV = in God's eschatological now] Christ has been raised from among the dead ones, the first-fruit-harvest of those having fallen asleep. (v. 21) For since death came about through a human being, the resurrection of the dead ones also came about through a human being; (v. 22) for just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...(v. 23) each in his own order [ta`gma > tavssomai ]: Christ the first-fruit of the resurrection harvest, then those who are in Christ at his parousia; (v. 24) then the culmination when the kingdom is given over to God, even the Father, when he brings to naught every ruler and every authority and power. (v. 25) For it is God's plan that the resurrected One should reign until the time when he "puts all enemies under [tivqhmi+ uJpo; cf. Psa. 110:1] his feet." (v. 26) The age-old enemy, Death, is then the last to be brought to naught by God. (v. 27) "...for he arranged all things under [uJpotavssomai; cf. Psa. 8:7 LXX] his feet"...now when it says "all things have been arranged under [uJpotavssomai]" it is clear that all things [- Death included -] all things are intended except, of course, for the very One who has arranged all things under [uJpotavssomai art. ptcp.] the resurrected One. (v. 28) And when all things are arranged under [uJpotavssomai] that One, then the son himself shall also arrange himself under [uJpotavssomai] the One having arranged all things under [uJpotavssomai art. ptcp.] him, in order that God may be all things in all things.
Dialogue: Sometimes our world seems to have no order at all...sometimes nothing but order. Pecking order stifles creativity and promotes power structures that demean; and then chaos and anarchy overthrow entire civilizations. Time and Parousia: just how future is "at his coming"? It reminds me of that adage..."the hypostasis of things hoped for, the demonstration of things not otherwise evident to the eye!" (Heb. 11:1) But the order of harvest instructs my wonder in a direction that intrigues and summons a second look. Resurrection harvest...it reminds me of the rhythm of earth, my home, the oikos where I live, that by which I am shaped, limited, delineated, fed and in which I am invited every day to rejoice...it is Spring time...it is hay season at the ranch...the rhythm of earth. Two very pregnant mares remind me daily that I am not feeding two but four...now and soon to become...four not the two I behold. Is the resurrected body of Jesus pregnant too? This order as God's plan...the then and then part...keeps rolling out the "arranged under" consequences of the first fruit of resurrection harvest, some very big plan for creation, history, and the cosmos...it is beyond my mind, and it forecasts a final showdown with Death as though the ritual of our individual demise were some big deal...bigger maybe than we are inclined to imagine it is...! "now I lay me down to sleep...!" No, this Death is some kind of god or something!...some kind of rival to God's sovereignty!
(v. 29) Otherwise what shall those do who are baptized on behalf of the dead ones? If the dead ones are not raised at all, why indeed are they baptized on behalf of them? (v. 30) Why also are we in danger every hour? (v. 31) Every day I die, truly, in the direction of the boasting, brothered-ones, which I have toward you all in Christ Jesus our Lord. (v. 32) If - humanly speaking - I battled wild animals in Ephesus, what would be the gain in that? If the deceased ones are not raised - well then as they say - "let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (v. 33) And again, don't be deceived: "evil associations corrupt the ways of good behavior." (v. 34) Be circumspect about Christian behavior and do not live in a way that misses the mark, for some lack understanding about God's way of arranging all things under this resurrection harvest...I say this for your edification.
Dialogue: Are you suggesting that you or someone believes that the sacrament of baptism can reach beyond the time and space of our ritual invocations at the font? I know that sacraments are the best way to talk about the mystery of holiness - "behold the Table!" - but this one leaves us speechless! I have never been able to get much beyond the expression that this is one of the dark passages of the New Testament awaiting the light of some interpretative breakthrough. Earlier in this epistle of yours you counsel those who have "unbelieving spouses" to be careful lest they forget that in the oneness of holy matrimony the faith of the one lays hold of grace in some way for both...for a time or even for the long haul. Is this like that? Is this an aspect of "arranged under" in resurrection harvest? Do we strike a supportive posture - uJpotavssomai- (arrange ourselves under in accord with God's arranging under) beyond the grave in this spiritual oikos when it comes to baptism in some way beyond our imagination? And the pastor, holding the baby - like Schaefer Teague - says "behold a child of the covenant"...just how big is this covenant?
(v. 35) So, who should be the first to advance the questions: how are the dead ones raised? and, with what sort of a body [sw`ma] do they come forth? (v. 36) Whoever is without understanding here (listen!): what you sow (into the ground at planting time) does not spring to life unless it dies (first); (v. 37) and what you sow, you don't sow the body-form that will be the end product, but rather (you sow) the bare seed, be it of corn or of some other kind. (v. 38) And then God gives to it a body-form as it pleases him and to each of the reproductive seeds he gives its own body-form. (v. 39) You can see, moreover, that not all flesh is the same, but there is, on the one hand, a different kind of flesh of human beings, another of four-legged animals, another of birds, and another of fish; (v. 40) there are also kinds of bodies that we call heavenly bodies and others that are of the earth, but here too the glory of the heavenly kind differs from that of the earthly; (v. 41)...even among the heavenly bodies there is differentiation: the glory of the sun differs from the glory of the moon and from the glory of the stars - after all, stars differ from one another in glory too. (v. 42) So it is with the resurrection harvest among the dead ones as well: it is sown (by God [all passives here are to be understood as divine passives?]) in corruption, it is raised (by God) in incorruption; (v. 43) it is sown (by God) in dishonor, it is raised (by God) in glory; it is sown (by God) in frailty, it is raised (by God) in durability; (v. 44) it is sown (by God) a physical body, it is raised (by God) a spiritual body. Just as sure as there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body. (v. 45) To the point is what it says in scripture: "Adam, the first human being, became a living creature of earth" - this is relevant here because the last Adam became the One raised to life by the Spirit; (v. 46) yet, it was not the spiritual body that came about first, but rather the physical, then came the spiritual body. (v. 47) That is to say: the first human being came forth from the soil as earthling [P. Williams' rendering of Adam in Hebrew], while the second human being has come forth from heaven as God's new creation. (v. 48) Of such a sort as the one of the soil are also those who are of the soil, earthlings; and of such a sort as the One of heaven are also those who are of heaven, new creations of God. (v. 49) Just as we bore in this life the image and shape of the earthling, we shall also bear the image and shape of the heavenly One in this life.
Dialogue: Good question: with what sort of a body do they come forth? How about Lazarus as a model? That peculiar dinner party of celebration after the "resurrection" of Lazarus in John 12 seemed so somber, like some prelude to the dance of death for the "sarx," a prelude perhaps to the day when Lazarus' sisters gather again at his grave after Jesus' resurrection and he can no longer rescue his friend from his mortal dying or being killed (cf. Jn. 12:10 & 16!). ..where he like all of us in our own "sarx" must await the "arranged under" version of the summon: "Lazarus come forth!" ... or is there already another body, post-resurrection in history, even now called into existence for those in the One who is the first fruit? You seem to say so ...and if so, what is it? What does it look like? These are vexing questions. Where do we go to look? The looking glass? The collective people images looking back from the mirrors of time all bear the marked, all-too-contemporary resemblance of that soiled earthling Adam-one; Adam-last looks the same or at least he would have if he had only needed to say he was sorry...for something, for some short-coming, some act of calculation, some falsehood, some transgression...they say he violated the sabbath...was he sorry for that? And that blasphemy thing...was he sorry for that? Paul, did you deliberately preface your words here with talk about the Spirit shaping the body - a spiritual body - and drop that portrait in ch. 13 on us to steer the quest for looking? Is that "love that keeps no score" a picture of Adam-last, your post-resurrection appearance image, the One who is who we are in him? Is this the body that is not at war with the Spirit the way that the earthling is? Do Adam-one and Adam-last co-exist in some mysterious "arranged under" seed-in-death/harvest-for-life existence animated by the Spirit of first-fruit holiness? My eyes don't see very well through glass darkly - the enigmatic looking glass...is there a "now" to the "one day face to face?" Elsewhere (Gal. 5) you talk about the "fruits" of the Spirit - first-fruit harvest kind? - in contradistinction to the warfare works of the flesh!
(v. 50) The point is this, brothered-ones: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God nor does corruption inherit incorruption. (v. 51) Behold, I tell you a mystery: not everyone will experience death as slumber, but everyone will be changed [ajllavssw] (v. 52) in a moment, in the flash of an eye, at the last trumpet sound; for the dead ones shall rise immortal ones and we shall be changed [ajllavssw]. (v. 53) For it is necessary that this corruptible body be clothed with an incorruptible body and this body of death be clothed with a body that no longer is subject to dying; (v. 54) When this corruptible body has been clothed with an incorruptible one and the dead one with the one that never dies, then shall have come to pass the words of the prophets:
Death is swallowed up in victory
(v. 55) Where, oh Death, is your victory?
Where, oh Death, is your whip?!
(v. 56) The whip of death is sin, and the force of sin is at work in the law. (v. 57) But thanks be to God who gives us the victory as a gift through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 58) The result of this (promise), my beloved brothered-ones, is that we have become those who are steady and firm, those who are in for the long haul, increasing in the work of the Lord always, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Dialogue: Death has been wielding the whip for a long time and sin has had its way with all our kind - except for Jesus, the first fruit of resurrection harvest - for as long as there has been dirt. There the holy land travelers were perched atop the western slope of the Mt. of Olives looking toward the Holy City; there below running the full length of the Kidron Valley were all those graves, layer upon layer upon layer as far as the eye could see...death and its whip of destruction, terminal destiny for the earthling's body. Yes, probably not all or even the majority of them experienced death's final whip of destruction like slumber - violent and before-her-time kinds of dying, rip and tare - but all shall be changed, you say. Discriminating in word-choice again, aren't you: a word that has taken the adversative conjunction "ajlla" - but, yet, however, nevertheless - and turned it into a verb! That this new thing "cannot be" is the cry from Death's evil throat, but in God's victory of clothing mortal bodies with incorruptible ones the prophetic word of old becomes the joyful paean of resurrection harvest: Nevertheless is here! Our labor participates in harvest time and the body we are distinguishes itself in no essential way from the spiritual body of the first fruit Lord of the harvest. Or do I misunderstand you, Paul? Maybe we should look again at the portrait in ch. 13 and compare it to the face of the spiritual body in the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation...maybe you would have ended your gospel with that face? Shining raiment, eyes-a-fire, a sword in the mouth, and a voice like rushing waters...the Ancient of Days...earlier you did say "you are Christ's and Christ is God's" (I Cor. 3:23).