This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal reading for the day along with a headline from world news:
CHINESE POLICE DETAIN WORSHIPPERS AT BANNED OUTDOOR SERVICE
1 Corinthians 15:12-28
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We 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. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection’, it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
Paul argues that life can’t have the significance he believes it has, if it is simply terminated by death. Firstly, if Christ is not raised to life, faith in him is terminated by death and he has no power to free people from sin; secondly the living partnership of the church would be terminated by death; thirdly there are few rewards for faith and goodness in this life, and if this life is the only one, our earnest commitment should be pitied. I know there are Christians who would argue each of these points with Paul, but I also know of atheists who utterly reject the basis of his argument. The concept of eternal life, they say, diminishes the life we have, and death, the fact that what we are, see, touch, and understand is fragile and will vanish, is precisely what gives our lives their meaning and their beauty. “Death is the mother of beauty” says poet Wallace Stevens, “hence from her alone shall come fulfilment to our dreams” We don’t need God or eternal life for happiness; this life is enough:
“They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn;
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest”
(from “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens)
I agree that a certain kind of theology has belittled the life we now live as if it was merely the gateway to heaven. Paul reminds believers that although the universe is presently subject to pain and decay it will one day be set free to share the glorious freedom of God’s children. The life we now live will not simply be discarded but will be part of the life of paradise. But the pain and decay are real. Indeed for many on earth they are the only reality. That is an insult to them and to God which we must strive to remedy. Christ’s resurrection tells us that it’s possible to fight evil here and now, as our Chinese brothers and sisters show, but also promises that death itself will be overcome and those whose lives have been wasted by violence and oppression will be given new life. Perhaps most atheists live in the more fortunate parts of the world.
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Those who love Jesus keep his commandments. There are many people masquerading as lovers of Jesus who make no attempt to keep his commandments, especially those concerning the use of wealth and the love of enemies. Well, they have their reward. But they will not want the gift of the Spirit, the Advocate who is the spirit of truth, because the last thing they want is for their lives to be transparent. Jesus in his earthly life had been this advocate of truth, showing up the religious bully boys for what they were and lifting up the little ones who had real trust in God. Now the Spirit will do this job. In John’s thinking it is not only the Spirit which comes to dwell with people-“on that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”, the whole Godhead comes to dwell in those who trust. The down-to-earth mystery of the “one life shared with God and our sisters and brothers” is given to those who trust in Jesus, follow his way and obey his commandments.