Based on: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Have you ever visited any of the famous grave sites of the world? The Taj Mahal is the resting place of a Muslim ruler and his wife. The Pyramids contained Kings of Egypt. Westminster Abbey in London holds the bodies of English nobles. Mohammed’s tomb is visited often because of its stone coffin and the bones which it contains. Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C., is the honored resting place of many brave Americans.
But today we visit in spirit a grave site that is different than all these. As we view the garden tomb we see a grave site that is famous, not because of the person who is buried there, but famous and important precisely because of the one who is NOT buried there. This garden tomb is empty.
Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and that is why we celebrate today. Our Easter joy comes from this historical fact. This day is important to Christians of all times and places because Christ’s resurrection means that even if we die we will not stay dead.
But from the very beginning there were those who refused to acknowledge Christ’s resurrection. In fact, right after it happened the Pharisees paid the soldiers who guarded the tomb to say the disciples stole the body.
Thomas Jefferson was another one. He did not believe Jesus performed miracles and so he made his own account of the life of Jesus by combining parts of the four Gospels. His own version ends like this “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.” For Thomas Jefferson there is no Easter. Can you imagine our celebration ending on Good Friday. How depressing!
Rudolf Bultmann, a theologian of the 20th century who is very influential in many Lutheran circles, even said outright that it is “utterly inconceivable” that the resurrection from the dead could be an historical fact. Instead, he would say that Christ’s resurrection was in the hearts of his believers – that he lives only in our memory.
We are not going to let these people spoil our celebration, but we do need to address the issue that sometimes there is doubt. If not conscious doubt then certainly we don’t always walk around thinking about the joy of the resurrection. At times we let work and recreation, money and things rule our lives as if there were no resurrection. And when it comes to sharing our faith, well, perhaps we don’t want to look foolish for believing in some prophet who has been dead for centuries. To be honest, sometimes we act as if Christ were still dead.
It is a fact that Christ is alive. And because of that fact, our salvation still stands. The empty tomb is proof that God’s justice has been accomplished and that our sins are paid for. God’s righteous wrath has been poured out on Christ for all the times we act as if Christ were still dead.
As for the thought that Christ only lives on in our memory – if Christ’s body did not physically come back to life and leave the tomb, there is no hope for our own body after we die. Does it make sense then to even be a Christian? Consider that Christ told his followers to carry their cross, love their enemies, and serve others. Christians do not have an easy life on this earth and if there is no life after death then we are just are wasting our time, money, and effort. We are fools and we deserve to have the world pity us.
But there is no need to despair, no need to forsake the Christian faith. Instead, rejoice! Christ’s body is not in that grave. He is alive. His very real and human heart is pumping blood again and his lungs are filling with air. Paul says, "but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead."
Paul gives us a picture of the connection between Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection. 1500 years before Christ, God commanded the Israelites through Moses to bring an offering at the beginning of the grain harvest. As they started cutting down the wheat, barley, or whatever grain it was, each Israelite would gather a small bundle of the best stalks of grain they could find and bring it to the temple. This was the first fruits offering.
With this offering the Israelites gave the first and the best of their income to the Lord, knowing that the Lord would also give them the rest of the harvest. This handful of grain was only a small part of the whole harvest, but it was God’s promise to provide an abundant final harvest.
Christ is the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." He is for us just like that first and best offering that the Israelite would bring to the temple, knowing that God would keep his promise to bless him with the rest of the harvest. Christ is that guarantee that we who are the rest of the harvest will also rise from the dead.
Christ died and was raised again as the first part of the harvest. Each of us will one day die and our bodies will be planted in the ground like a seed. When the time is right Christ will return and our bodies will be raised to complete the resurrection harvest.
But why do we have to die in the first place? Do you realize that God did not create Adam and Eve to die? It is unnatural. In death the body and soul are ripped apart. It is like separating a mother from her baby – it isn’t the way things should be.
The Apostle Paul explains, “death came through one man.” That man is Adam. Because Adam, our first ancestor, disobeyed God we have all inherited the desire to serve ourselves instead of God. Because of his sin and ours, we will all die.
Not only did death come as a result of that sin, but all pain, suffering, and hardship are a result of sin. The evil in this world is pervasive, and we too often think of it as “normal.” But deep down we know the horrible things in this world are not the way things should be, and so we cringe when we hear about some of the things that people suffer. When we suffer, we long to be out from under it. If these things were the way the world was meant to be, don’t you think we would more readily accept them?
But rejoice because Christ lives! Just as all of these problems came to us through the one man, Adam, so also the solution for all of these problems comes through the one man, Jesus Christ. God promises, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
The living Christ turns death into life. Not only is death destroyed, but every pain, every sorrow, and every hardship is also removed. Every evil caused by Adam’s sin is removed by Christ’s death and resurrection. Even the evil in us, our mixed up priorities in choosing this life over the next, is removed by this one man, Christ.
For now we live in this perverse and dysfunctional world, but not so on the last day when Christ has defeated every enemy. The last enemy to be destroyed is death itself and after our resurrection, death will no longer be able to touch us.
Now our hope is in the life to come. We endure persecution and troubles that come because we are Christian. We rejoice because we know that whatever happens to us here in this life there is a much greater life waiting for us.
When we see the empty tomb and the living Christ we are looking at the beginning of a great harvest. Christ is the first fruit of that harvest and the guarantee that all believers will certainly follow.