Without the resurrection, Paul says in 1 Cor 15, our faith is futile. I wonder how many in our churches, or even in our ministry, really believe this. I certainly do. Without the resurrection we have, as Paul says, nothing to preach. Nothing.
This is difficult for us, since we have no idea what this resurrection means and find it hard to accept something so utterly at odds with everything we know about life and death. When someone dies they’re gone and they don’t come back. This we know. Our identities are inexorably tied to our bodies and dead bodies are simply inert matter, meat.
This is not a new problem. It is clear from 1 Cor 15 that a good number of Paul’s followers in Corinth found it as impossible to accept the resurrection as we do. It is sometimes tempting to us to imagine ourselves to be almost infinitely more sophisticated than those who wrote and read the documents that make up the Bible. This is an illusion. Our culture is certainly far more powerful and has much more knowledge than that of 2000 years ago but it is simply not the case that they were credulous primitives without critical intelligence.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is dealing with doubts that have arisen because some people just can’t swallow the idea of a man rising from the dead. There is no resurrection, they say, our faith is in something else, something less incredible.
This remains a temptation for us, the temptation to turn faith into belief and to find something we can believe. If we do that we lose the heart of what faith is, which is trust that God’s goodness and God’s capability are such that the best we can hope for is what we should expect.
This why the beatitudes are such a powerful introduction to the sermon on the mount. It begins by reminding us what God promises: that the meek will inherit the earth, the merciful will receive mercy, the mournful will be comforted, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.
Given what we know about the way the world goes these look like empty promises, mere wishful thinking, which means that the resurrection is essential of God is not to be liar. Without the resurrection we have nothing to preach and our faith is futile.