Sermon Ideas For 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Part 1
A line from the traditional Easter hymn, This Joyful Eastertide, sings out: "My love, the Crucified/Has sprung to life this morrow!" The vision of Jesus springing from the grave is reinforced in a later line: "Had Christ, who once was slain, Not burst his three day prison,..."1 For many people the resurrection offers images of a superhero Jesus springing from an empty tomb, whereas the picture that St. Paul creates in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is quite different. St. Paul draws upon a liturgical formula in verses 3-7 to indicate that the meaning of Jesus' resurrection lies less in the vision of an individual corpse springing to life and more in the anticipation that it is God who raised Jesus the crucified one from the dead. It is our trust in God's power that we as Christian believers count on as worthy of our faith. The resurrection is an event in which we participate by faith with the community of believers. The vision of the resurrection that Paul utilizes in 1 Corinthians 15 links this epistle text to the Epiphany season as a prelude to the drama of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Epiphany text provides the church with a window into the future of God's glory for all of life.
The liturgical formula or creedal statement in verses 3-7 upon which Paul frames this passage points to the communal witness to and expression of the resurrection event. Paul reminds us and the Corinthian community that the resurrection witness comes to us through creeds, confessions, hymns, and liturgies. These expressions of the resurrection event grew out of common, communally based preaching and understanding. St. Paul's theological expression of the resurrection is tied to tradition and the church's self-definition. It is this corpus christianum that promises new life through the power of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. For Paul, then, new life in Christ surely includes the community, a life we will all share together. The individual believer's own personal salvation does not stand at the center of this text but is included as part of the totality of the church's story. Paul claims that he delivers what he has received. What Paul receives is the myriad witnesses of the community to the power of God and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Therefore, faith is not empty or ineffectual but joined to the power expressed in the witness of faith. The community hopes for a future together. The power of this expression is that the resurrection does not leave us as isolated individual believers.
This passage is not only an affirmation of the church's self-definition as a communal witness to the resurrection, but it is also a confession of faith that calls us to trust this God who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul witnesses to the tradition that a God who can be trusted is a God who keeps God's promises. The resurrection of Jesus is a promise connecting past and present to a future that can be lived knowing that death and evil have not destroyed God or God's plans. Knowing that Jesus' life was not lived in vain means we can have the same hope for our lives. The event of Jesus' death, resurrection, and exultation is taken into God's self, and it matters to God's self-definition. God's own nature is changed by this event in God; Jesus becomes the autobiographical stamp of identification. What was begun in creation by God is continued in the world as new creation.
Finally, this Pauline passage offers us a vision of what it means to be a new creation in God. We are linked to God in a relationship of fidelity and freedom. Paul Fiddes, in The Creative Suffering of God, claims that "...By responding to the self-giving love displayed in God's encounter with death, we are enabled to co-operate with God in new possibilities for life which He eternally offers to humans, in this life and the life to come."2 The particular experience of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is absorbed into God just as all experiences of suffering and death are preserved in the life of God. Jesus' death is transformed to life; our hope is for our particular lives to be filled with the possibilities of cooperating with God in the world. The claim that God raises Jesus from the dead defines the Christian's life as the opportunity and responsibility to become the human that God calls us to be within the world. This individual self-definition is contextually set within God's purposes of new life for all the world. The tradition of verses 3-7 is tied to the larger narratives about God's victory over all enemies of God. Our life is to be placed as part of this narrative of the Christian faith, that is, to transform death into life, to fight against evil and death. The hope of the resurrection is not that we are removed from life's difficulties to wait for another life, but, that in the community of faith we are empowered to live freely and humanly in the difficulties of our present.
Ann Pederson Sioux Falls, SD
1. "This Joyful Eastertide," in Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House and Philadelphia: Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1978), p. 149. 2. Paul Fiddes, The Creative