Beloved community, our reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth, chapter fifteen, verses twelve through twenty –
“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 Word of Our Lord.
Paul is speaking here about the physical resurrection of the dead. He is saying that as Christ ascended to Heaven, physically, bodily, so will we be physically and literally, with bodies, raised from the dead when it pleases God to do so. This sounds to modern ears like some crazy, zombie apocalypse bullshit, but there it is. Physical resurrection of the dead on Judgement Day – what are we s’posed to do with that?
We could just ignore it. In the Gospel of John, when Christ is talking with the woman at the well – ya know, the one who’d had five husbands – He says “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Jesus outranks Paul, so we could just chalk this up to Paul not knowing what he was talking about. I mean, Paul said a lotta good stuff and he definitely deserves props, but modern Christians frequently ignore Paul when he says stuff we don’t agree with. Actually, Paul says a lotta stuff Paul doesn’t agree with. Sometimes he says there are no masters or slaves in Christ’s Church, then he gives instructions on how masters and slaves in Christ’s Church should behave in their master/slave relationship. He says that there are no distinctions between males and females in Christ’s Church and then tells women to sit still and be quiet in Christ’s Church. He goes on and on about circumcision so much that it makes me kinda uncomfortable.
Paul, was a human – an inspired and devoted human, just like us, but a flawed and fallible human, just like us. We don’t have to treat his letters like the Gospel truth.
But we are talking about First Corinthians, chapter fifteen, twelve to twenty, so let’s talk about it. The obvious way of treating this passage is to believe, as many people have and do, that it means what it says. We will be literally raised from the dead on the Last Day. Graves will pop open and formerly dead people will come crawling out. Those who were buried at sea will come bobbing up the surface. I guess those who were cremated will be miraculously reassembled. We’ll all have bodies in the prime of life, with no aches or pains. We won’t need reading glasses. Those diseases we picked up when we were being sinful will be cured. Any fingers or toes we lost in shop class will be put back on. I dunno what’ll happen with tattoos, but the scars will be gone and we won’t have warts or body odors or any of those embarrassing things that happen with the bodies we have now. And we won’t have to get haircuts or shave because that would be annoying.
That’s one way of reading it – pretty hard to imagine, but God is in the miracle business, so if God wants to do it that way, God certainly can.
Another way of interpreting it is to say that we’ll have bodies, but they’ll be a different kind of body. We’ll have some kinda physicality, but it won’t be the two arms, two legs, hair, teeth and eyeballs form that we have now. We’ll have some other kindsa bodies. This is much easier for us to believe because it’s vague and abstract and it allows us to go into Christian-Yoda mode, lowering our eyelids to half-mast and intoning something cryptic about how the Lord works in strange ways, His wonders to perform, we see as through a glass darkly, let those with ears hear, yadda yadda. That’s a very convenient way of weaseling out of having to deal with any Scriptures that are confusing or offensive to our post-modern sensibilities or just don’t make a lick o’sense.
I don’t have to use that weasel-way out because I have another weasel – see, I’m over the whole death-thing. I am confident that God is gonna take care of me – the word “confident” means “with faith”. I have faith that when I shuffle off this mortal coil, God will do something with me and it’ll be pretty cool. That’s about all I need to know about that. And that gives me the freedom to interpret this stuff as it relates to me right now, today, before I die and the way I interpret First Corinthians, fifteen, twelve to twenty, is that right now, as I live and breathe, God can, has, and will continue to, transform my body from a vehicle for sin into a temple. Ya know – like how Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, referring to His body as a temple. Just as I have been raised from the death of my sin in spirit and made holy through the Grace of God, so too, can my body, with all of it’s flaws and imperfections and history of really awful behavior, be raised up and made new. Sure, the scars and tattoos will still be there and my septum will still curve to the left and my brain chemicals will still react with ethyl alcohol in a bad kinda way. I’m not gonna get a little bit taller and I will continue to have to search for boots that fit my weird feet, but the good news is that I can let go of all the shame I have about my body: all the sinful stuff that I did with it, all the stuff that was done to it against my will, all the things that happened to it as a result of my recklessness, stupidity or drunkenness, all the things that I did to it, on purpose, because I hated the person I was – all of that is dead and gone. And the same is true of anybody who accepts God’s Grace – your body, as imperfect and unlovely as it might be, can become a wonderful, new body, a body worthy of being a temple of our Lord. No matter how fat or skinny you are, how ugly you sometimes feel, no matter how many bones you’ve broken doing stupid things, no matter what you caught from having unprotected sex or using a dirty needle, no matter un-Christian words or images you have tattooed on you, no matter what has been done to your body either with or without your consent, no matter how much you fart or sweat or how stinky you can sometimes be, God is able to take all of your very physical. literal, sometimes gross body and use it to His glory and to perform His work. And anybody who tells you that your body is not okay -even if that person is you – is contradicting the word of our very imperfect Paul and you can tell them to shove it.
That is how I’m choosing to interpret this passage from the very fallible Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth and if that isn’t exactly how it should be interpreted, I am confident – I have faith – that it ain’t wrong.