Third Sunday Before Lent
Modern secular calendars and diaries begin the week with Monday. In our household that causes some confusion because my Church diary always begins with Sunday. We often find ourselves talking about different days or weeks. It seems we are not alone in this. There was an article by Matthew Parris in The Spectator on just this question. If you are writing an article for Sunday publication do you refer to 'this week' or 'next week'?
Behind all this is the slow erosion of our Christian culture by the secularists. I am sure that you don't need me to remind you that Sunday is the first day of the week because the first Christians met in worship to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week, this despite their Jewish background with the keeping of the Sabbath on the last day of the week.
Before the development of a complex Christian Calendar every Sunday was the day of resurrection, a celebration in the presence of the Risen Lord. That remains fundamentally true in our worshipping life.
Today's epistle from 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us how important our Resurrection faith is. Most scholars date this letter to c.54AD. Paul was writing only two decades after the Resurrection of Jesus, putting into writing what was already commonplace in the churches. He reminded them of the Gospel he had already proclaimed to them. In their receiving of it they were being saved through it. Some though were denying the core message, hence the need to repeat it. So let's look at Paul's letter more closely.
- 'For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received.' This good definition of tradition in the church reminds that written documents like the New Testament follow the spoken word. Paul is not innovative. The Gospel has already come to him from others. The receiving and handing on of faith remains the only means of Christian continuity.
- 'That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures'. Here we have a reading of our O.T., the scriptures, in the light of the death of Christ on the Cross, giving meaning to that event. He died for our sins. Thus Paul continues a process of reflection and interpretation.
- 'That he was buried'. Paul makes it clear that Jesus died, that he was as we would say 'dead and buried'. There were those in the Corinthian Church who emphasised the spiritual at the expense of the physical, a Gnostic tendency that Paul was quick to reject.
- 'And that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.' Again Paul looks to Scripture and tradition as the authority for what he is saying. At this stage there is no reference to the empty tomb. Whilst the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb belong to later dates and are much embellished, it seems wrong to take this, together with Paul's silence, as evidence that the empty tomb does not matter, as some have suggested in recent years. Given Paul's Jewish background and his concern with the physicality of faith we can take his belief in the empty tomb for granted.
- 'And that he appeared...' More important for Paul were the appearances of the Risen Christ. An empty tomb in itself proves nothing. It was the appearances of the Jesus in such away as to convince those who saw that he was alive that form the bedrock of traditional Easter faith. Later in Chapter 15 St. Paul goes on to explore his understanding of the Resurrection body. The risen Christ was not a ghost; his body was real if transformed. For now Paul lists those who witnessed those appearances, Cephas (Peter), the twelve, five hundred believers at once, James, all the apostles and lastly Paul himself, despite his background as a persecutor of the Church. Sometimes Christ appeared to individuals, at other times to groups. We cannot verify the claims being made, but we do know from St. Paul that they belong to the very beginning of the Church. We rely on the testimony of witnesses and on the authority of Scripture and tradition. We receive the message in faith and test it against our own experience. In turn we hand it on to those who follow.
It is good to be reminded of the basis of our faith in the Risen Christ in whose presence we gather here, Sunday by Sunday, on the first day of the week to worship God in and through him. By making worship our priority we are acknowledging that all that we do in the week is dependant on him. Far from reflecting a rather silly and pedantic argument, where we place Sunday in the week, reveals both where our priorities lie and the nature of our deepest beliefs.
'All things come from you O Lord and of your own do we give you'.
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Last updated 08/02/04 09:00:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd