First Fruits

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: I Corinthians 15:12-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has risen victoriously and set us free. Amen.

We have spent the past several weeks discussing ministry – both Christ’s ministry in this world and our own call to ministry as members of the Body of Christ.

But what is this all for? Are we saved by Christ’s moral teachings, as though if we could perfectly follow him, we could earn our salvation? Are we saved by answering God’s call into ministry? Is it up to us?

By no means!

It is good for us to follow the Law, to love God, neighbor, each other, and enemy – for faith without works is dead – but we cannot save ourselves, no matter how good we try to be.

And thanks be to God that the burden of our redemption is not on our shoulders! We begin almost every week on our knees in humble recognition of all the ways we have failed to keep the Lord’s commandments. Were it up to us, we would remain dead in sin, but Christ has brought us into everlasting life.

We are saved – that is, we are brought from death in sin to new life through Christ – because Christ died for us and rose again! Not because we have somehow earned such a sacrificial love but because God is rich in loving mercy. We sold ourselves into slavery under sin and death, and Christ came from heaven to redeem us! In suffering with us and emerging from the tomb victorious, Jesus shattered the bonds of sin and death. He set us free from slavery to sin, and he set us free for proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God. Our call to ministry flows from our salvation rather than the other way around. It is only because we are baptized into everlasting life through Christ that we can hope to love and serve the Lord.

In our salvation, we are set free for loving service to God and neighbor – even to love our enemies, even unto death – because Christ has conquered the grave. Our Lord has felt the sting of death, and he has overcome. Because he has risen again, we know that death has no sting.

It is in the Resurrection that all things come together; St. Paul puts it bluntly this morning: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

The entirety of our faith hinges on the Resurrection of our Lord.

His wondrous and miraculous acts are but mere parlor tricks if he is ultimately bound by death.

His teachings are vanity of vanities if the power of death still wins in the end.

His death is nothing but tragedy if he does not rise on the third day.

The ministry to which we have been called is self-delusion if we do not have hope in the empty tomb.

If Christ is not raised, what are we doing here? If there is no Resurrection, then this is all nothing more than historical re-enactment, and we are better off going for a nice hike to witness the new life of spring emerging from the dead of winter, or grabbing brunch with friends rather than snacking on stale crackers and sipping cheap wine.

If Christ is not raised, there is no blessing for the poor, the hungry, the outcast.

If Christ is not raised, those who hoard wealth, food, and power will get away with it.

If Christ is not raised, Herod and Pilate and Caesar may as well be lord.

If Christ is not raised, then illness, disease, infirmity, broken relationships, disasters, and all manner of things are reasons for despair.

If Christ is not raised, we are indeed the most to be pitied, placing our trust in the opiate of the masses.

But the tomb is empty, and we know that our hope is not in vain.

But because the tomb is empty, we know that our sins are forgiven.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that we have Good News to proclaim.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that the poor, the hungry, the persecuted, and the outcast will be blessed in the coming Kingdom.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that we can give of ourselves to be that blessing for the poor, the hungry, the persecuted, and the outcast.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that those who hoard wealth, food, and power can find forgiveness through repentance.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that Herod and Pilate and Caesar and presidents, prime ministers, and kings are not Lord.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be made well.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that sin, the devil, and death do not have the final say.

Because the tomb is empty, we know that Jesus is Lord, the Christ, the Only Son of God, Eternally Begotten from before time, True God from True God.

The Resurrection is our hope – our spiritual and physical hope. Christ is risen – ALLELUIA – not only in spirit but in body! He is the first fruits from among the dead, the One Through Whom All Things Were Made and the One who ushers us into a new and restored creation.

Beloved, lift up your hearts! Gaze upon this font and remember that here, you died with Christ and were made a part of his Risen Body! Here, you put on that which is imperishable and incorruptible.

Behold! On this Altar, this humble table, our Risen Lord’s Body is made present for you! Taste and see that the Lord is good! Drink deeply from the Cup of Salvation, for here is our Lord’s presence to sustain you unto everlasting life!

Take heart! For out of the deathly winter of this life, even now spring is coming! The green shoot is emerging from its sleep! All of creation proclaims the joyous mystery that Christ is risen!

Alleluia!

Amen!

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