“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
This has been a day of “door knocking” although I work with an open door. People rap to alert me to their presence then stick their heads around the door. It has been a happy day of reuniting with students back from vacation, directing lost freshmen and plowing through a myriad of year-opening details.
But I miss a knock that will never come again. I keep halfway expecting to hear my friend Ashton Welch’s lilting Barbados accent asking to come in, a big smile on his face, catching up on the summer. In the words of St. Paul, Dr. Welch of our History Department, one of our most loved and respected professors, has “fallen asleep.” His recent sudden death has left a huge void.
In these circumstances, meditating on St. Paul’s unflinching demand that we accept the resurrection as a sine non qua of being Christians is both comforting and challenging. St. Paul is almost scary in bluntly asserting that if Christ has not been raised then “empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. “ And he gets tougher. “For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain.” In short, if we can only accept Christ as an ethical preacher and reject the resurrection, our faith is empty.
Instinctively, I WANT to believe in the resurrection because I cannot accept the idea that death is the end of life. So I do. It helps that the time and form of the resurrection are unknown. We don’t have to believe a specific scenario of what will transpire like those counting on the rapture to sweep them into heaven.
We can accept the idea that at some time and in some form there will be a resurrection and leave the details to God. Then we can take comfort in the last two lines of this passage. ”But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” We can trust that our loved ones live on in some form. Ultimately it’s in the hands of a God who loves them and us.