Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“All Will Be Made Alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:19-22)
Easter Sunday: April 21, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Happy Easter! It is a joy to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with you today. On Easter we are reminded that Christianity is a resurrection faith, that death is not the end of the story for you because death was not the end of the story for Jesus Christ. Jesus indeed died, and Jesus was indeed raised from the dead.
Jesus did not come to earth just to be a good example, or to make you a better you, or to dispense Reader’s Digest kinds of “Points to Ponder” or “Quotable Quotes”, or to provide yet another religious entree in the food court of world religions. Jesus came to give life to the dead. He put it this way, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”; “I came that (you) may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 3:16; 10:10). Jesus came to do what only God can do: give life to the dead.
One of my favorite movies is the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, in which the late Robin Williams played an English professor at an exclusive boarding school. On the first day of class he leads his students to the glass-enclosed display of old team photos and trophies of students who had attended decades earlier. He tells them, “We are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die.” He continues:
Peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times but I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts, full of hormones, just like you—invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? “Carpe… carpe diem, seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary.”
And he was right, our flesh is indeed destined to die, to feed worms, to fertilize daffodils. No matter how smart, wealthy, beautiful, talented, resourceful, hardworking, well-educated, well-connected, or witty you are, one day you will die. There is no way around it. It is an appointment you may be able to postpone but one you cannot cancel. One day the grim reaper will knock at your door. One day a bell marking your death will toll, and as the great priest and poet John Donne, wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
And so we may try to make our lives extraordinary. Along these lines you may have seen the motivational posters with a word or phrase and accompanying slogan to motivate us to do just that, posters like: “Excellence—Some excel because they are destined to, most excel because they are determined to” or “Potential—We all have the tools for greatness within us” or “Make It Happen—Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”
I actually prefer posters that poke fun at motivational posters, such as: “Teamwork—A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction” or “Consulting—If you’re not a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made in prolonging the problem” or “Believe in Yourself—Because the rest of us think you’re an idiot” or my personal favorite: “Wishes—When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true, unless it’s really a meteor hurtling to earth which will destroy all life, then you’re pretty much hosed no matter what you wish for, unless it’s death by meteor.”
And while there is nothing wrong with seizing the day and making your life extraordinary, and even if you like motivational posters, when it comes to death, it all falls short. The reality of death remains, as do the questions surrounding it. In what may be the most famous lines in all of English literature, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece, the prince of Denmark reflects on the reality of his own mortality, his own future death:
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause (Hamlet III.i.64-68).
Hamlet then describes his fear about after we “have shuffled off this mortal coil”:
The dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveler returns (Hamlet III.i.78-80).
But on Easter we celebrate that Someone has actually returned from “the undiscovered country”, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who gives us real hope in the face of death. We need God to do what only God can do, give life to the dead. And that is exactly what God does through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as we read in today’s passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:
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, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).
“All will be made alive in Christ”—and that “all” includes you. Biblically resurrection is not so much about being reincarnated, or living on in the dreams and words of others, or playing a harp on a cloud. Biblically resurrection is about bodily resurrection, God transforming your dead body into a resurrected body. This gives us real hope in the midst of real suffering and real loss and real death.
In the Old Testament the greatest example of this was Job, an admired man who in a very short time suffered the loss of his children, his wealth, and his health. As he mourned the loss of his children, as he sat in the ashes of his lost wealth that had all burned down, as he was covered from head to foot with sores from his lost health, his wife gave him the following advice, “Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9).
But Job would not do it. Even in the midst of his real suffering and the real loss of his children and the apparent imminence of his own real death, his hope in the bodily resurrection, his hope of God giving life to the dead, remained as he proclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). “In my flesh I shall see God,” Job proclaimed. And you will too.
And in the New Testament scriptures assure us, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11)—that “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and (you) will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
“All will be made alive in Christ”…this not only includes you, but also those whom you love who have died. Many years ago I was teaching a youth confirmation class and the kids were taking turns answering the question, “Who do want to see in heaven?” As you could imagine, their answers reflected their personalities and interests. One kid, a guitar enthusiast said, “I want to see Jimi Hendrix” and another, a political buff, said “I want to see John F. Kennedy.” One kid joked, “I want to see Ronald McDonald” which sparked a prolonged discussion about whether or not Ronald McDonald is real and if so, whether he is alive or dead—one of the joys of teaching a youth confirmation class.
But some of the kids answered from their heart: “I want to see my grandma and hear her read me stories again”, “I want to see my brother and tell him I’m sorry”, and “I want to see my dad again and give him a hug.” On this Easter Sunday, how would you answer that question? Who do you want to see in heaven? You will, because Jesus Christ is risen, and “all will be made alive in Christ.”
Two brief music illustrations and then I will close…in 1964 legendary songwriter Curtis Mayfield wrote a song called “People Get Ready” that became a huge hit, a song Martin Luther King, Jr. named the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, a song Rolling Stone magazine dubbed the twenty-fourth greatest song of all time, a song that compares salvation to being invited aboard a train:
People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
(The title track on The Impressions’ 1965 album)
Several decades later Bruce Springsteen based his 1999 song, “Land of Hopes and Dreams” which has become a live concert show stopper, on Curtis Mayfield’s song. Springsteen emphasized the universal hope of this train of salvation:
This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
This train carries broken hearted
This train thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings
This train, all aboard
(On his 2001 album Live in New York City)
And the good news of the gospel is that this train also carries you.
And you probably guessed the identity of the Engineer of this salvation train, Jesus Christ, who died for you and was raised for you. No matter how extraordinary or ordinary your life is, the final word belongs to the One whose love for you has always been extraordinary.
This means when your appointment with death arrives you will not be alone in the waiting room, that when the grim reaper knocks on your door that knock will be dwarfed by Someone Else knocking on your door, that the bell that will toll at your death will be the bell that tolls at the beginning of your eternal life, that your death will not the end of your story but rather what C. S. Lewis called “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (The Last Battle 228).
Jesus Christ is risen, and he will do what only God can do, give life to the dead.
All will be made alive in Christ, including you.
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.