But in Fact ...
Text: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Last Sunday, A
2020 is, according to many people a no good, very bad year. Record wildfires and other natural disasters hammering every part of the globe, murder hornets, and political upheaval like you couldn’t imagine, oh, and did I forget to mention the global pandemic, never-ending lockdowns, crippled economies, and the loss of livelihood for millions worldwide! It is so bad that it has become a meme on the internet and the joke on everyone’s lips. What’s next? What else could possibly be coming? Just wait, you know there is something out there ...
And sadly, it all leads to an overwhelming despair encapsulated in senior citizens protesting outside of their care homes that they would rather be dead than isolated any longer. Or the heart-braking story published just three days ago of a Toronto woman who actually did it, and choose to end her life rather than go through a second lock down in the senior’s home where she lived. Seeing nothing better before her she choose to die instead.
But is this all that there is? Will it be only one bad thing after another until we are overwhelmed, dragged down, or die? That is what St. Paul answers decisively for us in our Epistle reading for this Last Sunday of the Church year. And his answer is a definitive “No!” This may all look really bad, BUT IN FACT, God is at work doing something truly amazing!
25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
Suicide is not a solution (just another problem for others to bear). Death is not our friend, no matter how bad things get in this world. Death is our enemy. The Lord created us for life and death is destroyed in the eternal life of Christ. You see, God the Father has not lost interest in us nor does He lack the desire or the ability to care for us ... no matter what the nightly news is trying to tell you. Jesus is the man by whom God fulfills His purposes for all humankind. The devil’s power has been broken. The sting of death has been taken away. The dominions, powers and authorities that rule this world in opposition to God have been put on a short leash for now, until that day when they are destroyed forever. They may lash out and make a fuss. They may cause a lot of fear and damage before the end. But they are done, they just don’t know it yet.
21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. The bad news is that all the misery that inflicts the world is a result of rebellion against God. We might blame our forefather Adam from whom it came, but it remains, even now, entirely because of our own sin. All that we see around us and every new terrible thing just waiting to pop up and cause its mischief and panic is simply the consequence of this creation being in a state of lifelessness, a constant state of dying, that leads only and ultimately to death and punishment for sin. And so, we shouldn’t be surprised when some years turn out to be unpleasant like this one. We shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen. Nor should we ever assume that the worst is behind us. While you are still in this world the worst is always ahead. For one day, whether by Covid or something else you and I will die. It is after all the last enemy to be defeated.
Yet, even so God encourages us to Be Patient ... because the worst is not really all that bad. Because, IN FACT, no matter how or when it comes, death has already been defeated! And this very Good News is entirely because in Christ we are raised from this grey and lifeless world and are granted the joy of living that true life in a close relationship with God. And just how, exactly? Through Jesus who has already done it himself! As Luther spoke on this passage: Though we may be more wretched than any other people on earth, though we may be frightened by whatever will frighten and aggrieve us, death, hell, and every misfortune, and though these may become as severe as they can; now Christ has arisen not from sleep, he says, but from death; for He died and was buried the same as other people. But He came forth alive from the grave in which He lay and destroyed and consumed both devil and death, who had devoured Him. He tore the devil’s belly and hell’s jaws asunder and ascended into heaven, where He is now seated in eternal life and glory.” This [Luther says] is to be comfort and defiance. For on His name we are baptized and we hear and profess His Word.
So what to do with a year like 2020? Give up? Give in? Make a half-hearted joke and whimper in the corner? NO! We face it with all the comfort and defiance of our risen and victorious Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. While the rest of the world grieves what they have lost we rejoice, in His victory over sin death and the grave. While the rest of the world grumbles and gripes at one another we praise His unending grace and kindness. While the rest of the world fears for what hammer is yet to fall, we trust His life giving and faith sustaining Word. And we keep on rejoicing, praising and trusting by gathering together as His bridegroom always has through every war and upheaval and plague and disaster throughout the ages. In short, we LIVE even in the face of death.
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Firstfruits were the earliest part of the harvest sacrificed to God in thanks for the full harvest to come. Given in thanks for the promise of all that is coming. As certain as God raised His Son from the dead as the firstfruits, so IN FACT the rest of the harvest of souls will follow to everlasting life. Never doubt this for even a moment, for this is God’s own sure and certain guarantee. No matter what else comes, even death itself (and it is always coming), death for us is no more to be feared than welcome sleep at the end of a long day. A welcome sleep from which we will awaken refreshed, renewed and rejoicing! And in fact, this promise alone, backed up in the risen and victorious flesh and blood of your Saviour Jesus Christ sitting even now on the very throne of heaven makes all the difference ... in 2020 and beyond.