1 Corinthians 15.1-7: 15.12-26
We are passing through a particularly active political period in our national life at the moment. But when politicians speak I am always reminded of President Bartlett in The West Wing. For, in that American political drama, he utters a particularly memorable line during a presidential election debate. And it is – it is not the first question but the next question and the next that is important. Since our various real life political hacks have a habit of giving open ended answers to posed questions. Then by their manner suggest that if you don’t see the whole picture you are uncommonly thick or particularly naive or just being perverse. So we don’t ask the next question. As a result, they remain free of any concrete proposals.
Well we cannot accuse Paul of that duplicity. Since he seems to throw the whole theological kitchen sink at answering whatever he had been asked. And what was he being asked?
Well to find some solution to that we need to enter the spiritual thinking of the ancient world. For that task, we are tempted to remember the Greek and Roman fables from school days. And very entertaining they were too. Gods descending from Olympus intent on very human no good. People turned into stags and other happenings that would make even the Sun newspaper blanche – well probably not. But these were really only the urban myths of the hobble-de-hoy of the Roman Empire. Most educated people looked beyond these fairy stories to eternal sources of divinity who did not embrace human flesh and blood. Indeed, these gods’ very eternal nature dictated against involvement with the material world. In turn, this type of thinking led to many believing the spiritual world was good and the material world was flawed, badly made and generally an unsolvable mess.
In actual fact, these philosophies are still around today. Since, if go to the average university campus, for example, you will see posters for soul talk events which espouse this type of thinking which is called Gnosticism.
Hopefully however, you are seeing where this is going. For if the touchable is to be rejected and the physical unredeemable then what was Christ doing being incarnated as a body made up of bones, cells and blood? The answer that may have arisen in the Corinthian Church was that Jesus only adopted a physical appearance but remained a spirit all the time. And it was this wrong thinking that Paul was roundly rejecting in his First Letter to this Christian community
Since the problem here is if Jesus was stuck in the spirit world the whole time he seemed to be on earth, how could he know the pains and joys of being human, how could he empathise with our woes and difficulties and ultimately how could he offer any form of salvation?
Well Paul rebuts the Corinthians false beliefs by making clear that Jesus was born as a human being, lived as one and was crucified as tortured flesh and spilled blood. He stated that such a full incarnation alone would offer redemption. Moreover, Paul confirms that Christ returned not as a ghost but as the same physical person he had been. God then does not reject the physical world. Instead, he embraces it, redeems it and perfects it. Put in simple terms, He is Lord of creation and proud master of his creatures. More personally, he embraces, celebrates and revels in the unique beauty he has made in the unique you and me.
At this point we could say – all this is very interesting but I don’t live in the ancient world, I am a citizen of the 21st century. I am not encumbered by the gnostic thinking that rejected the material world some 2000 years ago.
True – but there are parallels here and now. Since militant atheists will say there are universal scientific laws which impartially run the universe. Humans too act only through psychological and sociological principles. Earth’s problems then lie in human errors, animal instincts, statistical aberrations and local exceptions. Put bleakly, cosmology, biology and quantum physics are blind to life either human or otherwise. The material world then is not so much a bad place as just a coldly dispassionate one.
Yet the very outcome of this way of thinking is that our sense of self – our sense of consciousness – our very sense of the spiritual can be seen as but a trick of the electrons in our brain cells. Here then is a form of Gnosticism brought bang up to date.
That is why Paul’s continuing argument is so important to us as latter day Christians. For he talks less for the need for faith than the fruit of that faith. He is basically saying if you propose that the resurrection of Jesus was no more than a cosmic conjuring trick then you must reject the same possibility is open for yourself. However, if God can truly make eternal the physical and spiritual nature of Jesus, he will do it for you. In other words, our maker does not shelter behind the laws of science but can alter the future so that we have a future: a future not as some shade like entity or non-entity but as ourselves physically and spiritually able to know each other. In fact, in Christ we have a forever future as more perfect beings in a more perfect domain.
This then is the essence of our faith which we must work at daily by feeling alive in body, mind and spirit. This is the fruits of our belief which we can live in fearlessly with our bodies, minds and souls. This indeed is our whole life’s spiritual journey and hoped for physical destination.
Let us then say Yes to God in Jesus Christ and accept faithfully God’s Yes to us in Jesus Christ.
Let us go and be alive.
Let us go and grapple with the whole picture physical and spiritual.
Let us go and strive daily towards the words of Danny Deaube when he wrote – “As a Christian, our existence here on earth is but a sliver of the eternal pie. Our focus however should be on the whole pie, and not the sliver.”