This blog provides a meditation on the daily readings of the Episcopal Church along with a headline from world news:
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
Every time I read this I gain a different insight. On this occasion I realise that death is closely associated with other demonic powers, namely sin and the religious law. Death is the scorpion whose venom is sin, life curved in upon itself; and the power of this poison comes from the Law, the command of God twisted to serve this self. On the cross Jesus is condemned by the Law, separated from God as an isolated self, and overcome by Death. His being raised to life defeats this complex of powers and gives me hope that if I follow him, I can dispense with the miserable counting of moral pluses and minuses, my incurved self can be opened up, and I can live without fear of death.
I have a lifelong tendency towards an obsessive use of religious law, expressed in the imaginary accumulation of both guilt and merit. For me, therefore, this passage and indeed the whole of Paul’s theology is gospel indeed, as it was for Martin Luther. But Paul’s precise placing of this gospel in the promise of resurrection sets it over against not just compulsive striving for unobtainable merit, but over all “in-curved” systems of accumulation, for example, consumerism, that dominate human lives. This is good news for any day of the year.
‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Advocate takes the place of Jesus at the side of the disciples as the one who represents Jesus’ cause. This spirit who is the un-veiling of truth will show that the root of sin is rejection of God’s beloved son, whose righteous way is endorsed by the resurrection, and whose death as a criminal is already a judgement on the ruler of this world. Faith in Jesus according t o John involves a total revaluation of all worldly values. Indeed that’s what he means by “being born from above.”
Christian faith is always at risk of being undermined by tokenisms which diminish the distance between the world and the truth-conservative tokenism which reduces conversion to religious enthusiasm and welcomes the world and liberal tokenism which rejects conversion and welcomes the world. John’s gospel presses me to understand the world as a closed system that shuts out truth if it is not challenged by the Advocate who will guide me into all truth.