Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We 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. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
As a strict Pharisee, Paul was no stranger to arguments about the resurrection of the dead. Jesus faced the same arguments when tackled by the Sadducees (who denied the resurrection of the dead. See Mark 12) about the dilemmas of a much-married lady meeting seven deceased husbands at the pearly gates. For Christians it was not an abstract theological argument but an essential conviction. No resurrection – no faith, no hope, no love.
It is possible to explain away miracles, healings and exorcisms, but not the resurrection; Christmas and Pentecost, but not Easter, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”. Paul’s argument is two-fold, each side of the argument supporting the other: if Christ was not raised then neither are the dead; if the dead are not raised, then Christ cannot have been raised either. Either way, your faith is futile. The arguments are clear enough in all four gospels as well as Paul’s letters. For Paul it is deeply personal; and goes back to his encounter with the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road, an experience which he held to be as real as that of any of the Easter witnesses. The resurrection is the foundation of our faith, the strength of our hope, and the source of our love. It sustains us in this “middle time” in which we live, between the cross and the Last Day – the Parousia.
George Caird put it this way: ”….the Christ of faith is still the crucified and risen Lord, and to be identified with him is to be united with him in death and resurrection”.
Because of the resurrection of the dead, death has no power over us. Because he lives, so shall we.
A Prayer of St Francis
May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, so absorb our hearts as to withdraw them from all that is under heaven. Grant that we may be ready to die for love of your love, As you died for love of our love. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Moth retired minister, St Andrew’s URC, Kenton, Newcastle upon Tyne.