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1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Paul: Christ is Risen!


Paul: No, really—Christ is Risen!!

I imagine this is what the exchange of the traditional Easter greeting would have sounded like had Paul been physically present with the Corinthian congregation during the season when he wrote his first letter.

If I am honest, my attempt at an opening joke is not really fair. The Corinthians do not seem to doubt Christ’s resurrection, but least some among their number were struggling to believe in the resurrection of the dead. And the seriousness with which Paul addresses their struggle should not be overlooked. While some of their questions (and misguided answers) were concerned with the ‘how?’ of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the ‘so what?’ of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is where Paul focuses his attention. Whatever ‘how?’ questions were raised, Paul brushes them aside in v. 20 when he simply asserts the resurrection of Jesus as a fact. Paul does not engage in philosophical debates to try and convince people of the reality of the resurrection of the dead. Instead, Paul turns to the narration of the world provided for in scripture as the grounds of his assertion (the Hebrew Bible and a handful of other texts, at the time). He reserves the valuable parchment and ink for the implications of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

The Corinthians were not the first to have doubts about the resurrection of the dead and they certainly were not the last. The resurrection is a reality that stretches human language and comprehension beyond its limits. My head gets sore just trying to figure out the time difference for video calls with family, much less trying to comprehend the relationship between eternity and the present, but it is the relationship between the present and the future that is at the heart of the reality of the resurrection. The second reading for Easter this year begins with v.19: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Those first five words (“If for this life only…”) help us to grasp some appreciation for the misunderstandings and misappropriations of the resurrection that Paul wants to address.

The physiological dynamic of the resurrection of Jesus is not what occupies Paul’s imagination. Others had been brought back to life from the dead before. This is not the mystery of the faith. As the Rev. Dr. Scott Daniels has put it, “The mystery for Paul is that Jesus grabbed…the eschaton…and…pulled it back into the middle of history. So that now, the resurrection, the hope of new creation is not just something that we just wait for out there, but, in Christ, new creation is breaking out among us.”[1]

A faithful reading of this pericope must consider the political nature of the reality of the resurrection. Worldly kingdoms are directly linked with the introduction of death into the world referenced in v. 21. The abuse of power that inevitably marks their existence is connected to the ‘spiritual’ death of separation from God and is enabled and enforced by fear of physical death. The basileia tou theou, the ‘kin-dom of God[2],’ is what Jesus came proclaiming, not only with his words, but with action and fibre of his being. It was a radically different way of being together in the world—where enemies are loved, broken relationships are reconciled, and those perceived as outcasts are welcomed with open arms. And this kin-dom was rejected. The crucifixion of Jesus continues to stand as our “no” to the Kin-dom of God. But because of Jesus’ obedience, his commitment to God’s way, God raised him from the dead, saying “yes” to the kin-dom Jesus proclaimed. His claim to divine authority is the only claim that be deemed legitimate.

We live in the in-between—the already-not-yet. God’s kin-dom has already been inaugurated by Jesus, but it is not yet all-in-all. The in-between has never been an easy space for God’s people to occupy, but it is where we are. When we look around, the pain and despair of “the present age” is sometimes too much to bear. Living in such a world makes it easy to doubt the reality of Christ’s reign and the hope we have in the resurrection of the dead, even in ways of which we are not conscious.

It is important to consider chapter 15 of First Corinthians in the context of the entire letter. The implications of the gospel reach into all areas of our lives and our life together. The reality of the gospel of God’s Kin-dom was not something that was only learned cognitively. Rather, the primary means of “learning” for God’s people was doxological. It was absorbed through the routine and faithful giving of self to the practice of worship. Much of the meaning in Christian worship has been misplaced and attempts by pastors to recover it are often met with accusations of unfaithfulness to the worship of God’s people.

One example of how the meaning of Christian worship has been misplaced is the tradition of gathering as God’s people on Sunday. There has been a trend to disregard the significance of Sunday as the day for gathering as God’s people for worship. It is true that God can be worshipped on any day of the week and worshipping on Sunday “just because” is missing the point, but those who would forsake Sunday for gathering as God’s people are just as guilty of missing the point. As the Gospel reading will emphasise this week, Jesus’ resurrection took place on Sunday, the first/eighth day of the week, the day where the new creation breaks into the old. In their gathering to worship on “the Lord’s Day,” as they entered the place where they met, they stepped across the threshold of time and entered the kin-dom of God. It was in worship that they submitted themselves to the crucified reign of Christ and learned to live as citizens of God’s kin-dom, as citizens of the new creation, in the midst of the old creation.

[1] Daniels, Scott. “Worship.” Plenary Session, M15 Worship Pre-conference from the USA/Canada Region, Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City, MO, February 9, 2015. [2] I have grown fond of the phrase “kin-dom of God,” a more inclusive, less-stratified variation of “kingdom of God” made popular by the Cuban-American theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz.