Most of us are familiar with the Christian creedal belief of the resurrection of Christ. And some of us are not. Many more of us are familiar with zombie movies from 1960. Suddenly death reanimates into life, graves crack open, gates of mortuaries swing and the living dead stagger down black and white country sides eating brains from unsuspecting teenagers.
Another famous resurrection scene from Hollywood is that of “Frankenstein.” The patchwork monster comes alive after lightening surges into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. And Igor screams “It’s Alive.” Long before Boris Karloff stained our imaginations with his famous rendition of the creature, the story frightened jolly old England. Mary Shelly began writing the book when she was 18 and finished when she 21.
She sat in parlors throughout Europe, indulging in cultural curiosities with contemporaries like Lord Bryon and other political radicals. The time was peculiar because colonialism continued brewing in a strange concoction with romanticisms, enlightenment thinking, rationalism, the industrial age, and the fascination of the occult. One night after a rather intriguing talk of ghost stories, “galvanization” and other particularities of secret societies and occult alchemists, a wager was placed among the thinkers. “Who can write the perfect horror story?” And so began Shelley’s masterpiece. It was somewhat based on this creepy Italian doctor who performed strange experiments on the dead, and also a bit of a prophetic warning to the industrial and modern eras. Shelly supposed that the modern world with its technology would soon come crashing down if humanity interfered with creation. She later penned a somewhat apocalyptic piece entitled “The Last Man.” After all, many in the early 1800’s feared that civilization would have its eminent dooms day. Her story became famous, but it was almost a century and some change before film brought the masterpiece to the eyes of the western world.
People called the story a masterpiece because the motifs, themes, and symbols that wreaked havoc in the hearts of readers, causing them to question their own monstrosities, unnatural pursuit of knowledge, ambition, dismissal of nature, and feelings of helplessness. It wasn’t the first time that an “it’s Alive” moment messed up hearts.
Paul himself has to deal with various versions of “it’s alive” type of hype coming from the amalgamation of personalities in Corinth. The church was new, vibrant, and full of egos attempting to please themselves with intellectual superiority, flashy charismatic powers, oratory spectacles, personal ambition of leadership, and neglect of the poor. Corinth was itself a capital of trade and cultural kaleidoscope not unlike a major city today. People from the known earth travelled through Corinth, some trying to make a quick buck off of a brazen God, ancient snake oil, a sexual slave boy, tapestries, spices, and rarities. It was like WHOLE FOODS grocery meets one of those shadey PORN SHOPS down at Cheshire Bridge road. You could get gourmet hummus or a case of gonorrhea if you were looking.
Existing Among the plethora of personalities and philosophies, Paul attempted to address were those recently converted from myth cults. These cults or myth religions had deities who also did amazing things. Some of the heroes of these past faiths included Osiris, Baal, and Adonis. Yet some of the more rational minds in Greek Philosophy at the time of Paul concluded such beliefs were rather ridiculous. Also among those in Corinth, were Jewish persons interested in the faith. Some would have been familiar with the idea of Resurrection, thinking that all persons spent a purgative time in Sheol, and would be raised again with a new body and same soul at the end of the age. Those who were from the Jewish camp of the Sadducees, were kind of sad-you-see, because they laughed at a bodily resurrection. And then those who were influenced heavily by Greek philosophy thought the body or flesh was merely a shell that rotted away, and had no value at all. They believed in more of a spiritual resurrection. A bodily resurrection was odd to them because they believed that disembodied spirits floated about in some pure essential form. This later added to Gnostic thought, or those who denied the bodily resurrection of Christ. This is what years later John would call the spirit of antichrist, those denying a resurrection.
So this was what Paul was up against. Everyone knew everything, and the new Christians were confused as hell about this resurrection. Paul in his somewhat familiar snarky attitude starts in with the readers of his letter about all their arguing on the subject. His point is to unify them on beliefs. So here Paul is, writing to this group of misfits in 1 Corinthians 15.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them —yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Paul starts off calling them adelphoi. This word emphatically means brothers and sisters. It does not mean that Paul knows-every-fricking-thing or that he is the “vicar of Christ” but instead he is on their level. Even lower than that,
He is humble,
And he wants to compel them to listen to his words.
He is telling the Corinthians about the oral gospel they had heard. The gospel accounts had not even been penned yet. The Corinthian church based their faith in the Gospel which they had heard. It was that Jesus was doing something new. He had not torn down the law, but he had lifted up the greatest points of the Law for everyone. He became a sacrifice for those who had been in blood-sacrifice religions. He was the final word on their immortal souls, and that word was righteousness. His blood had paid all the dues that religion was charging them. It was done and he had been resurrected. Not resuscitated, but set free from the confines of death. Paul urges the Corinthians to understand they had believed this word he preached to them. Others had come along doing signs and wonders in Jesus name. Even Apollos had showed up as a super apostle doing all kinds of miracles. But he didn’t even know the whole story. He had to be taught by a woman and man named Priscilla and Aquila on the parts of the story he didn’t know. Paul was teaching the story he had heard. Paul also saw the Lord. Jesus appeared to him in a vision like state- as a light and a voice- resurrected beyond death. Paul was a witness of the resurrection. He goes on in humility to tell them he was the least of the apostles. He wants them to know he isn’t lording some great information or esoteric crap over their heads for a mere $19.95 but he is delivering this Good News: Jesus is Lord, Caesar or any other ruling empire is not Lord.
Jesus made you free. Free from World Systems.
Jesus paid the price for you to have life full and also made a way for you to escape the clutches of death.
This was the good news.
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.”[c] Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day —yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”[d]
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”[e] 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God —I say this to your shame.
So Paul tells them how it is. He makes an emotional case, suggesting that if one doesn’t believe in the resurrection than we have no hope.
Might as well slit our wrists.
Just random blips.
What kind of faith is that, Paul wonders.
Nothing. It would be a sad faith indeed. Humanity means jack crap in the cosmos?
No way, Paul says. We mean something. Our lives are valuable, now especially and we do go on living in a new way. Paul speaks to those who were familiar with the Jewish faith and the idea of a literal Adam. He recounts the story, suggesting that if you believed Adam brought sin into the world that Now Christ has banished it with one single selfless act.
That’s Jesus. Always taking the high road. Thinking of everyone but himself. And shouldn’t followers of Christ do the same. Paul goes from this point to speak about all the oppressive controlling political regimes. Once again reminding the Jews that their political messiah is Now Already and Not Yet.
They expected a savior to free them from slavery and economic systems of evil. Each empire will bow to the Kingdom of God and ultimately Jesus will be Lord recognized by every soul ever. Even if a Greek philosopher in all his illusions of being erudite could not wrap his intellect around a resurrection, Paul tells him to believe. Paul doesn’t say how this is done, or what it looked like scientifically- he merely suggests that not believing means all this Christian living is in vain. Paul starts getting a little snarky here and asking them about their baptism traditions. In fact, some religions like Mormonism continue a practice of baptism for the dead. Early Christian Gnostics such as Marcionites also practiced a baptism for the Dead. The word baptizein in Hebrew has a wider meaning such as ritual cleansing. Like a woman would wash after a menstrual cycle, or how you would prepare a body for burial, or even as in a ritual bath before a spiritual service.
Then he says basically if Christ didn’t die then why the heck did Paul risk his neck every day of his life. He uses pop culture in his letter, stealing a phrase from the Epicureans, who thought you could just treat the body like a non-stop party. He even quotes a famous book, saying “Don’t be misled.” Paul uses the secular here to demonstrate that God’s truths are beyond religion. And that we shouldn’t over analyze the resurrection, it just freaking happened. Paul addresses those who have been arguing and speculating about resuscitation, reanimation, zombie Jesus, and “Its Alive”…
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.39 not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”[f]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”[h]
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the
law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Look at Paul just smashing our intellectual assurance down and implying that some things are a mystery. We don’t have to know exactly what resurrection means to experience it. But so often we, like the Greek Philosophers, want rationalism and modernity to guide our path. After all we have placed Science as God. Science is a good thing. But we will never know anything absolutely until the end of this age and the beginning of the Next. Paul admonishes Corinth to set aside their foolish talking, theological debating, and rationalistic inquiries and except an experience with Christ.
So what does any of this alive hype have to do with 21st century Atlanta, Georgia? Are we not like Corinth a lot? Haven’t you seen the factions? Those who think they are more progressive than everyone else and carry it around like a badge. Those who think they have the corner on Truth and duel with apologetics and rationalism trying to contend with words? Those who say, “if you don’t believe like me then you are going to hell?” Those of us who follow some flashy charismatic leader who blows on people and they fall over? Those who think that through their pursuit of knowledge they will obtain power? Those who withhold feasts from the poor? Those who get drunk every night and think that it doesn’t matter what they do to their body? Those who think they can’t eat meat, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew or go with girls that do. Paul would laugh at all of us. We are Corinth. We are all saints, sinners, misfits, full of God’s glory and our own ego.
He calls us to the life of Christ.
He calls us to radical servant hood.
Can I give up my ego?
Can I give up my pride?
Can I give up my credentials as a progressive liberal or a right-wing fundamentalist? Can I give that up for one darn second to be united and agree that Resurrection happened, even if I don’t know what that means? What if we did work together? What if we invited the poor to our celebrations? What if we didn’t spend forty hours speaking in tongues, but cared for our neighbor 39 of those hours? What if we didn’t argue on Facebook pages about the tradition of Christ and him coming to save and we actually helped end hunger? What if we could realize we didn’t know everything and embrace this mystery to which Paul calls us? And I have been guilty. But can I change? Should I really follow Christ?
If one thing Corinth was short on, it was Love. Paul echoed this in chapter 13. It doesn’t matter about anything we do if it isn’t in Love. And nothing matters if we don’t believe in “ALIVE” resurrection.
So, ask yourself.
Can you let go of your “korithianzai” nature to walk in Love and believe in our common hope of Resurrection? Can I let go of my own ego and do something that says I believe in Jesus life, death, and New Life? Imagine what we could do.
A final note from Peter Rollins “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system…
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”