Paul on Paul – 6th February 2022

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.

Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve. Next, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all he appeared to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.

There are a whole number of things to be said about Chapter 15 of 1st Corinthians, which we will be reading from over this and the next 3 Sundays. It is a Chapter focussed on one fact: That there is a Ressurection of the dead.

My favourite Christmas film* is based on Dickens’s book, A Christmas Carol, which famously begins “Marley was dead: to begin with…There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” And at the risk of spoiling a 100-year-old classic, it is true – it can’t be Marley’s ghost if Marley isn’t dead…it’s just Marley in a bedsheet.

But we know that A Christmas Carol is just a story – we’re not meant to believe it literally. The Gospel, however, it is vital that we accept that is true – that there was a man who was called Jesus who died, was buried and then rose from the dead.

But, the fact of the Ressurection – while an essential feature of mainstream Christian belief today – was not always so readily accepted. In the early church, the heresy of ‘Docetism’ held that Christ was not really a person, but only appeared to be human. So when the Gospels said he ‘he had died’ on the Cross and then resurrected, that was only what it looked like had happened. This was rejected and confirmed as heresy at the Councils of Nicaea (325AD) and Constantinople (381AD).

But we must accept that Jesus did die – which is why St. Paul takes great pains to commit to writing these facts in the early Church. It was almost as if he knew that 2 centuries later these very statements would be vital. That he needed to swear first-hand that Christ had died and that, after he was killed, he appeared to his closest friends and followers, to great crowds, and then to him. He made clear that Christ had died, and then (but only then) had risen.

The lesson we must carry with us through this Chapter over the next 3 Sundays is a simple one: There is no doubt that Jesus was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

*It is, of course, “A Muppet Christmas Carol”. I am not prepared to debate this.

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