1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (Epistle for Easter Sunday)
19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
In the name of + Jesus.
My kids and I love grapes. They’re one of the staples of the menu at the Truwe household. Jamie and I can always count on grapes being eaten, and since it is important to serve something that we know will be consumed, grapes are served regularly. But one bunch of grapes can be quite different from another; which is why tasting the first grape in a new bunch is so important. If that grape is sour, the whole bunch of grapes is looked at with suspicion. But if that first grape is plump, and juicy, and sweet, the rest of that bunch of grapes is looked at by hungry eyes with longing desire. Although, admittedly, that first grape is not always a trustworthy indicator as to how the rest of the grapes will taste, but this analogy can help us to understand what St. Paul means when he refers to the risen Christ as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (v. 20).
St. Paul is using an agricultural analogy with which to teach the Corinthian Christians about the resurrection of the dead. Would this year’s crop be good? Would the vineyard produce rich, juicy grapes? Would they be good for wine? These questions were answered by the fristfruits, which were the earliest portion of the harvest. Israel would collect the firstfruits and sacrifice them to God in thanks for the full harvest to come (TLSB, p. 1974). Those firstfruits gave them an accurate indication about what sort of harvest they could expect. If the first fruits were big, and juicy, and good for wine, the people knew that the harvest would be the same.
We know that there were some in the Church in Corinth who were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:12ff). But St. Paul addresses this misunderstanding by pointing them to Christ’s own resurrection. By calling Jesus the firstfruits, St. Paul is teaching His reader that the risen Lord shows us what to expect in the resurrection. Sure, Jesus died, along with the rest of us humans. But Jesus burst from His tomb, alive and well. Jesus rose from the grave, with flesh and bones. And if St. Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits o those who have fallen asleep. Then we are to draw great comfort from the empty tomb, and Jesus’ own resurrection. For in it, we see what will be our own future on the last day—in the harvest.
For now, death stings us. We’re separated from our loved ones, and death seems to be reigning. But in Jesus’ resurrection, you have an accurate indication of what will happen to you in the resurrection. You will be raised, in a new and glorified body, never to die again. For if the first grape of the bunch I buy at Kroger tells me what to expect from the rest of them, how much more is the risen Lord to be trusted. If the risen Christ is the fristfruits, then you who have been baptized into Christ, and believe in Christ, know what will be yours.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Risen Lord, by your death you have destroyed death, and by your resurrection, you have opened the door to everlasting life. May I draw strength from your resurrection, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, let it be my own expectation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.