Reflection: "Taking Heart"
“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - I believed, and so I spoke" says Paul in his letter to the fledgling church in Corinth, ancient Greece.
Paul certainly knew what it was like to be afflicted.
He’d had many struggles during his journeys - proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But even in the midst of all his strife, Paul counted on the resurrection of Jesus to give him hope.
The little church at Corinth was one of his problem children and in this letter he urges them to not lose heart, because even though their bodies may be deteriorating day by day, their spirits are continually being renewed.
He reminds them that the one who raised the Lord Jesus (God) will also raise us all and bring us into his presence.
You may remember that it was the resurrection of Jesus, on that Easter Sunday, that had fired up that first group of disciples.
After the crucifixion of Jesus, they’d been filled with fear and despair and they were in hiding for fear of their lives.
The resurrection and the meeting with their risen Lord, changed everything about their point of view.
It lifted their spirits, their bodies, and their imaginations, allowing them to see life in a whole new way.
In his own struggles, Paul also often turned to the dynamic of the resurrection as a source of hope for himself.
He knew of the power of God in the resurrection, as seen in his own experience on the road to Damascus, when he transformed from being Saul (a persecutor of Christians) to Paul, one of the greatest evangelists the church has seen.
He emphasised to the Corinthians that the power of the resurrection, which was available to him, was also available to them and to those they brought into the church.
Based on this hope, Paul told them that "everything is for your sake," a phrase that he used frequently in his letters.
All that Paul did in relation to the Corinthians, was so that they would know the grace of God and the eternal life that could be found in Christ Jesus.
And we know that these words weren’t just for those Corinthian converts.
Their task should then be to share this knowledge with others, continually widening the circle of believers - all to the glory of God.
The point of such sharing wasn’t so much to increase their numbers in the church, but to increase praise and thanksgiving to God, which Paul says is what God desires.
Jesus repeatedly emphasized that what God wants from us is not our perfection, but rather our passion.
So, our life goal shouldn’t be goodness, but rather thanksgiving and praise - an attitude of gratitude to our God.
Paul reminded the Corinthians, and us, just why the resurrection (and gratitude in response to it) was so important.
We live in a difficult, dangerous world - a world that often makes us lose heart.
It can be scary and threatening, causing great anxiety, threatening our existence with ideas of meaninglessness.
Paul's interactions with the Corinthians reminded him of that abyss.
There’s a great temptation to lose heart in these situations; yet Paul recognized that in the very consideration of this question, in these very struggles, his understanding was being deepened and he felt strengthened and renewed.
He took this opportunity to remind the Corinthians of the realities of their lives, and indeed of all our lives, when he moved into a series of contrasts between inner and outer natures.
He pointed out that our lives DO have a meaning and purpose - in God - and we have been deepened by the revelation of God in, and through, the life of Jesus Christ.
In this revelation, we have the opportunity to see that the meaning of our own existence is not confined to the limitations of our bodies.
We discover that we have a home in God, a home not made by human hands, but a home that tells us our lives and selves belong to God, even in the midst of our turmoil, or "outer nature".
Paul calls this home our "inner nature," and we use various terms for it: "soul", "spirit”, "consciousness" and "personal identity", which is rooted in, and grows out of, our longing for a permanent place with God.
Whatever term we now choose to call it, it connects back to Paul's first-century insight that we are more than the sum of our body parts, or our accumulated personal history.
To say that we’re "more than", is not to demean the present, or our earthly lives.
Rather it’s meant to enhance the present, to enrich our lives by helping us to become aware that there are deeper and more powerful meanings in the routines and stories of our lives and of course in the lives of others.
The idea of an "inner nature", or spiritual dimension, can seem fanciful to some, who focus only on the physical.
Paul wanted to drive this point home to the Corinthians, so he used two other metaphors: "temporary and eternal" and "seen and unseen."
He wanted to emphasise as strongly as possible, that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ all point us to a reality that is deeper and richer than human history and science would suggest.
Paul keeps his eyes on the prize – which he sees as an eternal life with Christ.
It was his focus on this dimension of reality, the dimension of God's love and grace, that gave him the energy and vision to engage with issues such as the problematic church at Corinth.
So what does this mean for us, more than 2,000 years later?
Christ still hasn’t returned in his full glory and the timing of such an occurrence remains unknown to us.
Life after death and the second coming of Jesus are powerful ideas and remain metaphors for us to use in talking about the forces in our lives.
I believe that Paul would urge us to also keep our eyes focused on the prize, but he’d add one more focus:
that we not only believe in life after death, but we also believe in life BEFORE death.
In this passage, Paul urges us to ground ourselves in the "here and now."
Isn’t that what happened to the disciples on that first Easter morning?
The women who came to the tomb were captured by the power of death, as, initially, Mary couldn’t recognize the risen Jesus, even though he was standing right in front of her, talking to her.
She thought that he was just the caretaker of the cemetery.
Maybe the reason she couldn't recognize the risen Jesus was that her heart, her imagination, and her senses had been taken over by the power of his death, only a few days earlier, when he’d been crucified.
She only recognised him after he called her by name.
The thundering power of God that calls the dead Jesus out of the tomb now calls Mary out of her tomb too - out from under the power of death.
She then has the eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to receive that message.
She just has to share it - running to tell the others: "I’ve seen the Lord. He’s alive!"
Are our hearts and imaginations also captured by earthly thoughts and the power of death?
Why have we come to believe that weapons can bring us security, that war will bring peace?
Why do we believe that violence can be liberating, or that money will bring good life?
The doctrine of the resurrection is a promise telling us that death doesn’t rule - not only when we die - but even more importantly, when we live.
The risen Jesus is out in front of us, calling us to come out of the tombs of death so that we can experience that power of new life that fired Mary and even those reluctant men who had initially thought that she was hysterical.
May we, too, take heart when we hear our names called.
May we, too, know that we have been raised to new life with Jesus.
I urge you to take heart and follow him.