Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20

What If...

Popular Translation

12 If we preached that Christ was raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?

16 If God will not raise the dead, he did not raised up Christ. 17 And if he did not raise up Christ, your faith is useless, you’re still full of sin, 18 and those Christians who have died are really gone for good. 19 So, if we placed our hope in Christ as we live day to day, then we really are the most pathetic people alive.

20 But, Christ is risen from the dead! He is the first offering to God of all those who have died.

Literal Translation

12 If Christ is preached that he has been raised from the dead, how (can) some among you say that (there) is no resurrection from the dead? 13 If (there) is no resurrection from the dead, (then) Christ has not been raised. 14 If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is [also] empty, and your faith is empty. 15 So, we are discovered (by others) as false witnesses (in the name) of God, because we witnessed according to God that he raised the Christ, whom he did not raise if truly the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless, you are still in your sins, 18 then the ones having fallen asleep (in death) in Christ are also lost. 19 If in this life we are only placing our hope in Christ, (then) we are the most pitiful of all men.

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead as the first fruit (for the harvest sacrifice) of those having fallen asleep (in death).

15:12-13 “resurrection from the dead” The word for resurrection was “anastasis” in Greek, meaning “standing up.” This was a popular word for resurrection in the New Testament.

“Alternate history” has become a popular parlor game in the last fifty years. Popular novels and academic papers have been written to speculate on how history would have changed if one or two details changed. “What if...” is a interesting mental exercise.

Paul used the “what if?” question to argue for the resurrection of the dead. Without the possibility of such a resurrection, the belief that Christ rose from the dead would be irrational. Take away the resurrection of Christ and the entire construct of Christianity would crumble. Preaching and faith would be in vain. Missionaries would be deluded at best, liars at worst. Either way, they would be shamed for their gullibility or duplicity. The faithful would discover they did not have that status. They would still be sinners. And believers who had died would be lost forever. Like the missionaries, they would have a shameful status as the most pathetic people on the planet.

Paul followed the logical path down the negative to implicitly ask a rhetorical question: if you did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, why were you Christians? Like some in the community at Corinth, many self-proclaimed Christians today do not subscribe to the doctrine of the resurrection. For them, the resurrection is a metaphor. After winter comes spring. After defeat comes triumph. After depression comes ecstasy. For people like these, Christianity is a group of teachings and wise sayings that sooth the harried psyche. But, if faith in Christ is only good for therapy, why don’t we all close our parishes and go to the beach instead? Certainly, that environment would be more conducive to the realization of “warm fuzzies.”

Yes, Christianity does have teachings and wise sayings. Yes, resurrection does have the power of metaphor. Yes, faith in Christ does have the power to calm the waters of the hectic lifestyles we live. But the root of Christianity is belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead, beginning with that of Jesus. Certainly, that doctrine, in conjunction with the movement of the Spirit, was the basis for the establishment and subsequent health of the early communities. Indeed, Jews and Gentiles would have not gathered together in the name of an unknown Galilean just to share his wise sayings that resulted in mutual good feelings.

Paul believed the end times were immanent. In these times everything would return to God. In his death and resurrection, the Risen Lord was the first movement of the world back to God. As Christians, we believe that we will be part of that movement. If we do not, then our spiritual life is futile. No matter how wise teachings and metaphor lower our blood pressure now, in the long run Christianity would be a matter of “spinning our wheels.”

Thank God Christ did rise from the dead. Thank God we will be him, body and soul, at the end. Thank God, Christianity is not alternate history, a case of “what if?”

What would your life be without faith in the resurrection? How does faith in the Risen Lord change your perspective on life?