Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in 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. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When 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.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
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.
Perhaps you hear the music of Handel’s Messiah as you read these words: that great triumphant climax, helped along by the solo trumpet, to which the oratorio has been building. At first sight Messiah may seem a retelling of the Bible’s story of God at work, from Isaiah’s prophecy to the confidence of the book of Revelation. But on closer inspection Messiah can be heard as really about our response to God at work.
And that is not a new idea. Paul has poured the best of himself into the first 57 verses of this chapter as he tries to explain what the mystery of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection is about. He knows perfectly well it is beyond our human vocabulary to explain, but here some of the most exciting glimpses the Bible offers. Then comes the surprise.
Paul’s climax is not swirling around in a distant Heaven; it is the implication for what you are going to do today. In the Lord your labour is not in vain. Have we grasped what he has been trying to say through this chapter? If so, Paul says, we will see that our Christian service, however apparently trivial and invisible, is not in vain. It is part of the build up to that final climax to which the resurrection of Jesus and our resurrections point, when God’s sovereignty will be unmistakably clear. Within God’s economy, every piece of Christian service has a value and a divine purpose. Let the trumpet sound. Alleluia!
Resurrected and living Christ
Though I only see in a mirror darkly I thank you for glimpses of what Resurrection means: for new life; for death conquered; that in you, no endings are final.
Help me to see that my work for you today is part of the same story and that one day it will be part of your Glory.
John Ellis is the Treasurer and Immediate Past Moderator of the URC and a member of the Tudeley and Five Oak Green Local Ecumenical Partnership.