These readings are from the Catholic Lectionary for daily Mass, and the headline is chosen to remind me of the world in which I’m blogging.
SCOTS REJECT INDEPENDENCE
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Now if Christ raised from the dead is what has been preached, how can some of you be saying that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ himself cannot have been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless; indeed, we are shown up as witnesses who have committed perjury before God, because we swore in evidence before God that he had raised Christ to life. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins. And what is more serious, all who have died in Christ have perished. If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.
But Christ has in fact been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep.
Paul shared the faith of Pharisees that the dead would be raised to life by God in the “last days”, that is, at the end of the “present evil age.” As this was not a very precise timetable, some pharsiees certainly spoke of the dead as already made alive in God, in some kind of disembodied way. In the final resurrection, their bodies would be renewed and restored. So when Paul came to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, it would have been for him a signal that the last days had arrived. The time of great change had begun. This gives Paul’s message the note of urgency which is so characteristic of him.
In this passage of his letter, he was dealing with people who simply denied the possibility of resurrection.They may very well have believed in the survival of souls in some form as many Greeks did. For Paul, God’s rescue of humanity takes place through Jesus Messiah who in total obedience to God, fulfilled the role of Israel in pouring out his life for the sake of all people. In him and through him therefore, all people can receive the forgiveness of their sins and membership of the one family of God. If however, Jesus was not raised from the dead, he was not God’s Messiah and Son, the last days have not arrived and nothing has changed. People are still in their sins. That’s Paul’s argument. He believed that In Jesus God had broken the cycle of evil and death in his creation and begun a new world. But he believed this because Jesus had been raised from the dead. If the sacrificial life of Messiah Jesus had simply ended in death and gave direction for this life only, Paul would have rejected it as a waste of time. He would not have given his allegiance to a sacrificial style of life if it ended in death. He would have been happier with the words of Ecclesiastes, “Let’s eat drink and be merry, for that’s the best we’re offered.”
The word scholars use for talk about the last days, the arrival of God’s kingdom and the transformation of the universe, is “eschatology”. The great difficulty for Christian faith in modern times is to articuate this dimension of faith-which includes the resurrection of Jesus- without falling into the fanatical delusions of the rapture industry or the routine repetition of what is said in the Bible.
For me the clue to an honest reworking of eschatology is found in the book of Revelation, where the course of earthly events is presented as simultaneously the course of God’s definitive rescue of the universe. The Roman Empire is also the posturing of a Great Whore, the deaths of Christian martyrs are also the victorious armies of God conquering the power of evil. What happens “on earth” and what happens “in heaven” are directly related through God’s justice, so that the suffering and defeat on one side of the coin are joy and victory on the other. The Lamb (the crucified Jesus) is at the “heart of the throne” (he rules with God). The cosmic battle for God’s goodness is not a future cataclysm, it is happening now, as you and I live our lives.
But if we are to be honest about eschatology we have to be honest about Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t know if Paul thought of Jesus’ physical body as physicaly magicked from the tomb. He doesn’t mention the story of the empty tomb.But I’m sure that the bones of Jesus are in Palestine. Resurrection is not a conjuring trick with corpses. It is apocalypse (revelation) now. It is being overtaken by the lamb at the heart of the throne, so that my daft, humdrum, sinful, sad and mortal corpus is already joined (doubtless at the tailend) to the victory procession of eternal goodness. That this will be clearer to me after my death, is something I happily believe.
Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching, and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God. With him went the Twelve, as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources.
On the one hand, here’s the disreputable prophet from Nazareth accompanied by some crazy and disreputatble women, going round a tiny backwater of te Roman Empire, proclaiming, of all things, God’s rule over the world. On the other, here’s the victory procession of God’s goodness, freeing people from disease and social chains, soberly and sanely announcing a fact: God is in charge here.
Luke manages to give us both