Date: February 17, 2019 (6th Sunday after Epiphany, Series C)
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Locale: Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Lemay, Missouri
Our culture has had a fascination with these fictional creatures called zombies lately. I gotta’ admit: I enjoy zombie films myself. Whether you enjoy TV shows like The Walking Dead or movies like 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead, there are many adaptations as to how these zombie apocalypses begin. Sometimes it begins as a virus or a disease, or some biological accident in a secretive lab somewhere. Other times—and in the earliest zombie films—the Devil himself was involved. Whatever the cause for the zombie apocalypse in these films, they all have one thing in common: the dead rise from their graves.
Trouble in the World:
Some people are even convinced a zombie apocalypse is possible! In 2012, there was an incident in Miami where people under the influence of a drug called bath salts were engaged in zombie-like behaviour—they were attacking people and eating their faces! I’ll never forget the messages I received from people.
I was still in the Army, and I received several messages from people saying something along the lines of, “Did you hear? There’s a zombie apocalypse! Are they sending in the Army?” I was like, “You can’t be serious.” So, during lunch, I hopped online, and sure enough, there were cannibal attacks social media was labeling as the “Miami Zombie Attack.” Of course, I did more digging and discovered it was simply a drug incident from an adverse reaction to bath salts.
This all sounds absurd, doesn’t it? I mean, seriously? Zombies? How can anyone believe something like that could happen? This is the same reaction we get with the resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ. We tell the world Jesus has risen from the dead and we, too, shall experience a resurrection like His, and the reaction we get is, “Seriously? The afterlife? How can anyone believe something like that could happen?”
For whatever reason, the world is so ready to believe a zombie apocalypse could happen—that the dead could begin rising from their graves and begin eating people alive—yet the idea of the Son of God rising from the dead and raising us from the dead is somehow absurd. They not only say it’s absurd, but they also set out to try to prove Jesus did not rise from the dead. Zombies rising from the dead becomes a possible future whilst the resurrection of Christ, and by extension of this the full resurrection of our bodies and souls, becomes myth.
Trouble in the Text:
St. Paul was facing a similar problem with the Christians in Corinth. Believe it or not, there were Christians in the Corinthian church who were saying there is no resurrection of the dead. This isn’t really surprising considering the context they lived in.
The Corinthian church consisted mainly of Gentile converts, or pagan converts—that is, people not from a Jewish background. These former pagans did not have personal experience with religions that depicted or taught a resurrection of the dead. Most Jewish sects in the first century also did not believe in a resurrection of the dead. So, the majority of culture believed and taught there is no resurrection of the dead, which infiltrated the Corinthian church.
But Paul had it with this false teaching! The resurrection of Christ is the rock on which our faith stands! And the bodily resurrection to come is the rock on which our hope stands! So, Paul used simple logic against his opponents. If there is no resurrection of the dead, this means Christ did not rise from the dead; therefore, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then we will not rise from the dead. Furthermore, if it’s true Christ did not rise from the dead, then our faith is worthless, and we are most to be pitied—that is, we live a miserable existence!
Even more, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then Christ’s existence was pointless! If there is no resurrection of Christ, and by extension of this no resurrection of the dead, then the Christian faith is totally pointless!
Grace in the Text:
But, Paul assures them, the fact is that Christ did rise from the dead, and He is the first of many to rise from the dead. How does Paul know this to be true? Not only have his colleagues seen Jesus Himself risen from the dead, but Paul himself also had a real experience with the resurrected Jesus. So, as an eyewitness (which is ironic considering he went blind temporarily), Paul says Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection of the dead.
This means Jesus is the first in a series of resurrections to come. If Jesus is merely the first, this means another resurrection will come, which, as Paul continues in the letter [v. 23], those who belong to Christ will also experience. Paul was, in essence, saying to the Corinthians: “Forget what the culture says! Forget your former pagan ways! Jesus is the truth, and the truth is this: Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia!”
Grace in the World:
And so, today, brothers and sisters, I tell you the same thing Paul said to these Corinthians two millennia ago: Forget what our culture says! Christ is risen from the dead! Alleluia! Therefore, you, too, shall rise from the dead! In fact, you have already died and risen! In your Baptism, you died to sin and were risen to life in Christ [Romans 6]! Also, in your Baptism, you were promised the second resurrection in which Christ will raise you from the grave!
If you should die before our Lord returns, when you rise from your grave, it is not going to be anything like what we see in zombie films. You are not going to rise with your flesh falling off your bones; you are not going to be a mindless, walking corpse; and you’re certainly not going to be eating anyone alive!
Rather, you will rise from the grave with your soul rejoined with your body, totally new and restored and redeemed [1 Corinthians 15:35-49], walking upright in Christ in your robe of righteousness, feasting with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.