One Friday morning not too long ago, Eliza — my two-year-old — and I went for a walk. Mostly. Friday mornings are our time together, and while it’s so easy just to turn on Encanto and let her relax, I wanted to get outside and wanted her to have some time to run around, too. There’s a great playground in our neighborhood — my kids call it the Blue Playground — so I suggested we walk there, and amazingly, she was agreeable.
As many of you know or can remember or have heard, trying to get a toddler dressed and out the door can be a struggle. And so we started getting ready and, I don’t know, around two hours later, we were all set to go — except socks and shoes — and Eliza just wasn’t having it. She refused to put her shoes on. So finally — FINALLY — we compromised, and she agreed to wear her pink Keen sandals. You know Keens? They’re rugged and outdoorsy. It was fine. It’s fine.
So we started out and… barely made it to our neighbor’s house before Eliza sat down on the sidewalk and took off her shoes. Because there was a pebble in it. And it wasn’t enough to take off just one, she had to take off the second one, too — just in case there was a pebble inside of that one. (There wasn’t.)
So, I don’t know, ten minutes later, after making it all the way to the neighbor’s house, I got her Keens back on and we started — at last — making our way toward the Blue Playground. Until we got to the end of our street. At which point Eliza again sat down on the sidewalk and again took off both shoes because again there was another blasted pebble.
This went on and on and on. And when we finally got to the Blue Playground, I don’t know, two weeks later — which is a joke; we did not, in fact, make it to the Blue Playground. We did not come close. Because again and again, we had to stop, take off our shoes, remove any trace of a pebble from within, get the shoes back on, and so on and so forth.
It was great. We had fun.
But look, I get it. You know that feeling. A rock in your shoe. And it bothers you — it persists with every step. I was the same way as a kid. My mom tells the story about how I refused to leave the house for school in the mornings because the seam on my socks felt funny against my toes, and I had to get them just right before I would leave. This is me.
But it’s annoying, and you can’t shake it. You can’t stop thinking about it. It just persists. A constant companion.
And, well, this annoying rock in your shoe is not unlike that nagging feeling that the resurrection may not be entirely for real — which is the belief that the Apostle Paul is responding to in the scripture we hear today. I know that’s the connection you were going to make. I’m sure you saw that coming. A rock in your shoe and the resurrection. But here we are.
First though, a quick refresher on where we’ve been.
We’re in the church season of Epiphany, and it’s in this season of light that we consider the ways that the glory of God, the love of God, the power of God is revealed and made manifest among us. And for the last few weeks, we’ve been working through the lectionary, specifically the latter section of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, to consider the ways that God’s love is made manifest in and through beloved community.
We’re hanging out here for a little while, because the church in Corinth is not too unlike the communities in which we find ourselves. Corinth in Greece is a hub for industry and commerce. And it’s a place where different people are coming together. It’s sort of a melting pot of ideas and backgrounds and beliefs and stories. In particular, in the church, you’ve got Jewish converts and Gentiles brought together who have different ways of seeing the world, who’ve been formed in different traditions, who have certain ways of doing things — and there’s tension and disagreement and dissension over all kinds of things, and that’s all on top of the pride, rivalry, and self-indulgence that comes as a result of our just being human.
So as I noted last week, the bottom line is that these fractures, these divisions, these conflicts, left unchecked, threatened the whole thing. This community nearly came undone. And Paul is writing here in an attempt to offer clarity, diffuse some tension, remind them where they came from, and help them chart a faithful way forward. And we think he’s got something to say to us, too.
This week, we’re picking up right where we left off last week with Paul in the middle of a theological debate about the resurrection — about Jesus being raised from the dead. There’s disagreement over whether it actually happened — whether Jesus was actually raised in body and spirit — or, as some argued, whether it was more of a metaphorical resurrection. In other words, it didn’t really happen, but it’s something that we can spiritualize and still learn from.
If you remember last week, Paul kicked off this section of his letter with a humblebrag about how he worked harder than everyone else while also describing how he had come to know the reality of the resurrection — a lineage of eyewitness accounts. And he was here handing on what he had first received. Paul knew the power of story shared in relationship. He knew the power of someone coming alongside you and then carrying your testimony, your witness, with them. He knew how it could change hearts and lives. He’d seen it firsthand.
And we shared last week about how when it comes to the reality of the resurrection, the trouble is that you can’t prove it. Paul can’t appeal to scientific evidence. We can’t either. There’s no proof. He can’t even point to reason. Because you can’t make sense of it. So instead he leans on witness. On story. We’ll go deeper on this point next week — our final week with Paul in this letter.
But this week, Paul keeps the argument rolling. Having begun by describing the firsthand accounts we talked about last week, he continues to build the case not only that the resurrection occurred, but that it was a bodily resurrection. In other words, it wasn’t just an apparition of Jesus that appeared following the resurrection. It wasn’t just a ghost. It was really him — Jesus, embodied. And this denial of a bodily resurrection was a common sentiment that some in Corinth believed. In the ancient world, there was a common philosophical sentiment — and it’s even still common here and now to some degree — that the body is simply a vessel for the soul, that the body is corrupt, that our bodies are bad, and that when we die, the soul at last escapes — is freed — from the body and leaves it behind.
And this is what Paul is arguing against. He says if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead and yet you say there’s no resurrection of the dead, then there’s no resurrection in our faith. Then Jesus wasn’t really raised. And if there’s no resurrection — if Jesus isn’t raised: that thing that is central to our faith — if there’s no resurrection, then there’s no point in Jesus’ life. There’s no good news to proclaim. There is just the execution of a righteous man.
And if there’s no resurrection and thus no good news, then your faith is pointless, Paul says. In other words, what are we even doing? If that’s the case, we’re still bound to sin and self-service and selfishness with no possibility of moving in a different direction — as hard as we might try. There’s no chance for second chances. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The end is simply death. If there’s no resurrection, there’s no hope. It’s all in vain. And if that’s true, Paul says, we are, of all people, most to be pitied.
If there’s no resurrection, there’s no good news. If there’s no good news, there’s no hope for us. It’s just like this.
And real talk: I don’t know about you, but there are days, I get it. There are days I’m vibing with the Corinthians. There are days I look around at this world — the situation in Russia and Ukraine, nearly a million in the US lost to COVID, the political and family fractures that seem to just grow deeper, and so much more — and it is hard to believe in resurrection. Like that rock in the shoe, there are nagging days I can’t help but look up and wonder, “I don’t know… I’m just having a hard time with it all.” And on my better days when I’m in a somewhat better place, sometimes it’s still hard to get there rationally. Historically. Logically. I wonder if there really was a stone and an angel and a gardener. Some days it’s easier for me to spiritualize the resurrection as a good story that’s meant to teach us something. To hold it at arm’s length a little. And if that’s you, too, I feel that.
But did you notice how today’s passage ends? There’s a turn. After Paul runs through his argument — if there’s no resurrection, there’s no raised Jesus. If there’s no raised Jesus, there’s no good news. If there’s no good news, there’s no hope, and we’re just a bunch of suckers — but after he runs through this argument, there’s a turn:
“But in fact,” Paul writes, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
But in fact…
There’s a but. And if you remember nothing else this morning, I want you to remember this: We are people of the “but.” Yes, I said what I said.
Because this but — like all buts — signals a turn. A new direction. A change. It stops one thought or idea and starts another. And this is exactly what Paul is going for.
With this “but,” Paul is working to move the Corinthians in a new direction. To take them to a new place. Because here’s the thing: To deny the resurrection of the body means that death has the last word. That God is not stronger than death. That at the end, the powers of sin and evil and injustice and oppression win the day. That we are resigned to hopelessness and despair. That this is all in vain.
But Paul’s “but” here, is meant to disrupt. It’s meant to interrupt that way of thinking. It’s meant to pivot them toward a new reality — one they can’t prove or use reason to get to, but one they can cling to nonetheless. One that they can stand firm on. It’s a statement of faith. And not just a statement of faith but a statement of resistance — as if to say, “No. This is not the end. Death does not have the last word.”
Because when Paul says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” he’s offering the same sort of disruption that resurrection offers. He’s turning the expected end on end: Disrupting the power of death to give way to something new. Life. Love. New creation. And it’s not contingent on your belief. On your logic. On your reason. It’s contingent only on the power and grace of God at work in your life and in the world.
I heard this story once about an Episcopal bishop named Daniel Corrigan. He was in his 80s hanging out at a church in California. He was a described as a pastor and a prophet. A champion of justice and liberation. Definitely on the progressive end of the theological spectrum.
And as Easter approached someone asked him, “Bishop Corrigan, do you really believe in the resurrection?” The person recounting the story fully expected this seasoned, educated man of stature to scoff at the question. To spiritualize the resurrection. To offer a new way of looking at it that leaves appeals to reason and helps us understand it on our own terms.
But instead, Bishop Corrigan, without missing a beat, simply responded, “Yes, I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”
I don’t have to tell you that we’re coming up on two years of the pandemic. I know that so many of you — so many of us — are weary. Are tired. And tired of thinking about it and talking about it, too. There’s so much heaviness. So much grief. But as I sat with this passage this week, I’ve got to say that Paul’s “but” — Paul’s image of a resurrection that disrupts — is just what I needed. Because I need the hope found there. I really do. I’m ready for it.
I heard once that “resurrection is the Christian term for defiance.” That resurrection is resilience. And this is what Bishop Corrigan was getting at — because we are people of the but. We are resurrection people. This is our story. It’s made real in and through each of you. I’ve seen resurrection, too, in you.
When your world is rocked by a diagnosis but you commit to make the most of every day in all its fullness.
When you start to wonder if it’ll always be like this, but with time, you feel like you can breathe again.
When a family is forced to flee for safety, but are embraced and welcomed with a new home and a fresh start.
When you feel you’ve hit rock bottom but discover that rock is a pretty good foundation on which to build something new..
When, in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, but your tireless work ends with a small victory toward justice and equity.
When you screw up and know it and apologize but give yourself some grace knowing that your worst thing isn’t the last thing
When you’ve been hurt, but you offer that grace to another.
When you couldn’t have predicted it, but today is another day or month or year sober.
When you’ve been burned by churches in your past but take a risk and show up here anyway.
That’s resurrection. That’s hope. And it’s not just what’s been done. It’s a promise for you and me for the future. Again and again, it’s God’s big “but” in the face of death. (I said what I said.)
The hope of the resurrection is defiantly persistent — like a rock in your shoe. But y’all, for the love of God, keep walking. And know you’re not alone.