It may seem like a huge jump from spiritual gifts to the foundations of the faith, to the Resurrection of the dead. But actually, it makes sense if you think about it. Paul is inviting the community at Corinth to restart their relationship with the faith, with God, and with one another. Something has gone off the rails, so it is time to get back to what matters. One item of dispute in the church at Corinth was the belief in the Resurrection of the body. So, Paul wants to confront it head on. And to do it, he goes back to Jesus.
While there appears to be some argument about what happens to us, there isn’t an argument about what happened to Jesus. So, Paul starts there. Jesus was raised, and was seen, and spoke and ate and interacted. This is what Resurrection is, says Paul, this embodied eternal life. It isn’t, he argues, some ghostly, spiritual Resurrection; it is flesh like we know it. But then, he admits, it isn’t exactly like we know it, or experience it now. But it is nonetheless real.
What does this mean for worship today? It’s Christmas again! No, really, behind Paul’s argument is a firm belief in the incarnation. God determined our flesh worth rescuing, worth redemption, so much so that God put on this flesh and walked among us—not put on as in a costume, but put on as became like us, enfleshed. That is the glory of the Christmas celebration. Okay, you just got all that stuff put away. Should you drag it all back out again here in the middle of February? Well, maybe not. But go back and look at the songs you sang, maybe not the baby in the manger ones, but the love came down ones. There is some profound theology in some of the favorite Christmas carols. Maybe you could spring from one of those this day to talk about the wonder of what Christ did in becoming like us.
It is also a continuation of the “you matter” theme. The Resurrection of the body means that this body matters. It is matter and matter matters. Okay, we’re getting a bit confused there. But incarnation is a way of saying that this life is important. We aren’t just trying to get through it as quickly as we can so that we can enter heaven somewhere. We are living heaven right now. Let it be a celebration of this life, even as we anticipate eternity.
This may not be the place to challenge competing views of what happens when we die. That isn’t really what Paul was doing in our Corinthians text. Instead, he is trying to get us to focus on Christ and see in him hope for the future, even as we see a pattern for living today. Jesus is the model of living and loving and dying and rising. And while we may not really know what happens at that threshold moment between this life and eternity, we embrace the promise and the hope wholeheartedly.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.