It’s Eternal Life; Isn’t that Crazy?

1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57              May 8, 2016

You can listen to the sermon right here:

This is an anthem by Prince, who you may have heard died a few weeks ago. At first blush, it sounds like an anthem celebrating life. But if you get past the description of the afterlife, which sounds lovely, (although too much sun wears me out), this is an anthem of full-on denial of death. Because even in Prince’s joyful, rocking lyrics about the afterlife, it leads to lyrics like this: “We’re all excited, But we don’t know why, Maybe it’s ’cause We’re all gonna die And when we do, what’s it all for. You better live now before the grim reaper comes knocking on your door.”

One of the more compelling write ups about Prince since his death is from Minneapolis writer Neal Karlan who became a friend of Prince after interviewing him for Rolling Stone. He reflected on the death of Prince in this way: I just pray to God Prince was dead by the time he hit the floor. I just pray Prince wasn’t cognizant, even for a mite of a moment, that he was dying alone in a nondescript elevator, in a Wonder Bread suburb of the city that was one day too late in telling him we loved him as much as he loved Minneapolis.

 Because there’s one thing I’m positive I know about Prince. After knowing him in forever alternating cycles of greater, lesser and sometimes not-at-all friendship over the last 31 years: His biggest and perhaps only fear was dying alone. [1]

For as much as Prince knew and anticipated the afterworld, he was afraid of how you get there. He was afraid to die. So perhaps this song, Let’s Go Crazy, is Prince is singing about an ending, that when this life ends, that’s just it. So ya better go crazy now. Squeeze all the living you can out of today. Maybe even be reckless because you only live once.

Prince was not alone in this thinking. We live in a world, especially here in North America, obsessed with looking younger and staying alive longer, where wisdom and age and failing bodies are hidden away in nursing homes because it’s an awful lot of trouble to care for and confront day in and day out. This messy, bodily decline in need of resuscitation.

So today’s reading from Paul is still as relevant as it was in his time. He’s trying to connect the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus to the people’s own bodies and their deaths and their resurrections. And, as Paul is want to do, he can go on and on and on a bit too much. He can go in circles. (Someone please keep track of the times he says the word raise or raised)

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 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. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.

Paul is simply trying to say that if Jesus was raised from the dead, then so too are we! That is what it means to be baptized- it’s what it means when we eat the bread and drink the wine – death and resurrection over and over! But also, when our bodies actually physically die, resurrection awaits us then, too. Then we too begin the next part of eternal life that has been promised to us.

It’s just that once you start talking about death, we can get kinda stuck there. We can get stuck in the semantics, the details, the finality of it.

My friend Naomi’s mom made the decision to stop dialysis back in March and she struggled to make that decision even as her body gave out on her again and again. She asked me, “Do you think it’s right that I get to make this decision to die?” A week or so later, after she had stopped the dialysis, and before everything shut down, she wondered out loud to her daughter, “Well now, how will I get in the coffin? Will I just climb in there on my own?”

But Paul never stops with death, it always leads to resurrection which leads to eternal life. So really, in order to talk about eternal life, you’ve got to talk about death. It’s just that you don’t stop there.

When you think about death, what do you imagine? Are you afraid to die? What does the next part look like for you? What have your experiences of death been with loved ones in your life? Have they been filled with sickness and suffering, was there peace at the last? Have you worried about where they are since they died? Have you had a brush with death?

Paul is trying to tell us that our bodies matter. That the radical thing that happened to Jesus is not a singular event chained to the past but it is an event that happens again and again even in our bodies. That radical thing that happened to Jesus includes even us. So it’s no wonder Paul is spinning and spinning – because to claim Christ is to claim a savior who showed strength in death by raising from it. And that includes us too.

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead

But in fact! It’s resurrection, baby! Christ has been raised form the dead! We can’t just hope for this life – what a pity! We don’t place our hope on a vague sentiment or on fairy tales. Our hope is in Christ. What happens to Jesus’ body happens to us too.

You wanna go crazy, Prince? The crazy thing that we believe is right where the rubber meets the road for Christianity and the particular claim we make through Jesus Christ: death is real, it’s just not the end. We do not worship Jesus at a grave side – we do not worship a dead savior, a rotting corpse. We stare at an empty cross in wonder and awe and amazement and confusion. It is crazy, isn’t it?

This following Jesus stuff is not about resuscitation of a failing body, it is about resurrection – it is about living lives that have been transformed by a love that claims us before we were born into the world and after we’ve left it.

Living a life transformed by Jesus is about confessing our sin and being forgiven day in and day out.

Living a life transformed by Jesus is about finally feeling the forgiveness being worked out between you and your ex or you and your sibling or you and your mom or dad.

Living a life transformed by Jesus is about seeing the world as a gift, your life as a gift, each breath as a gift from God.

Living a life transformed by Jesus is about seeing life and possibility when before you would have only seen an ending.

If Jesus is raised from the dead, then so too are we and you’re never the same again.

Paul says: The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Ultimately that’s what Jesus does. The power of death is destroyed because it’s not the end, it’s a new beginning. And the not knowing just drives us crazy, doesn’t it? What Paul is trying to make the case for is to not get caught up in trying to figure it out, here and now. It’s not a thing we can ever do on our own.

We know this part of life – the part where we will be broken wide open, these frail and inconsistent, miraculous bodies. We will hurt each other and we will love each other and we will be loved and forgiven and transformed by Jesus again and again and again. And then, when we’ve taken our final breath, the next part of our eternal life begins. Because our life in Jesus Christ never ends.

Isn’t it crazy?

Thanks be to God.