The Firstfruits of the Resurrection – Easter 5 (Cemetery Service)
The Firstfruits of the Resurrection
James 1:16-21 T Easter 5 (Cemetery Service)
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!
Since Christ has been raised from the dead, we know that we too shall rise from the dead by His power and glory. For man and woman are the crown of God’s creation. We bear His image. We’re given dominion over the works of His hands. Yet, through one man’s disobedience, the tragedy of death, and the suffering that leads up to death, has become common to all people. That one man was Adam, and his disobedience was that he didn’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things. By this one man’s sin, original sin has been our inheritance, and death is our fate.
In James 1:15, which is just before our epistle reading, it says, “then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This is the unfortunate reality of death. We die because we’re sinners. It’s the fruit of our labor. It’s as Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death.” So, everyone who lies in our cemetery died because they were sinners. Of course, this is true for all who die. They followed Adam’s example. Like Adam, they tried to sneak a little something behind God’s back. And we, like Adam, rebel against our creator too. Like Adam, we suffer until the day when our sin is fully grown, and it brings forth death.
There’re many ways that folks view death. Atheists say that there’s nothing on the other side of death. That once the last breath expires, there’s just nothingness. Eastern religions believe in reincarnation, that your soul will animate some other life force out in the world. Modern man tries to grasp for any semblance of eternal life by the invention of different technologies.
But what about Christians? How do Christian’s view death? What does God have to say about death and our bodies?
Let me ask you – why are you gathered here this morning? (Sure, it’s sort of cool to have service outside. But why are we here?) Why do we have the Cemetery Memorial service? (With the cemetery behind me?) If you’re a regular part of the congregation, you may come to this service because well, it’s the only option I gave you today! But if you’re a visitor, having a loved one planted here, you’ve come here to share in the memory of them. But not just the memories of them in the past, but to share in the memories of what they will become by God’s grace!
Sure, these folks buried here don’t look like they have a lot of potential anymore. They look like they’ve run their course – that they’re incapable of life. But they are. Because the bodies of the people here aren’t what we perceive them to be! Pardon me if this is a bit grotesque, but their bodies are more than the decaying matter 6 feet under dirt. Their bodies are seeds!
I once heard someone talk about how cemeteries are actually gardens. And I think this is actually how Paul speaks of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. The bodies of the dead are seeds planted in the ground, lying dormant until Jesus comes to raise them up from the earth. Jesus will come to resurrect all bodies from the grave – unbeliever and believer alike.
But the bodies here are like seeds that you’d plant in the garden – they don’t look like much. You’d never expect a small seed to well up into a great fruit-bearing bush or tree or plant! Same with the bodies here. The appearance is different than reality. There seems to be little hope for any potential. They seem lifeless. However, they will sprout with life when Christ comes back! Then, He will judge the living and the dead. He will judge them according to His own righteousness – which is only received by faith – which is only received by receiving and living by the forgiveness of sins from the cross.
Or, Jesus will judge them according to their unrighteousness, which means eternal punishment will need to be paid due to their sins. Until this end times judgment, the bodies are planted here like seeds.
I’m not much of a gardener – but that’s okay. I like to think of it as a way that the Lord teaches me some life lessons, or a way to deepen my understanding of all the agricultural stories in Scripture. In our garden last year, we didn’t have a great year, so we sort of let everything grow up in it. But when I decided to not be lazy and get to work on the garden a bit, I saw that there was a bush watermelon growing! Funny thing was, I hadn’t planted a bush watermelon in about two years! And even two years prior, it never really took off – it sort of just died.
Some folks will see their loved ones in a similar way – they may find themselves surprised at the resurrection of all flesh. They probably saw the bodies of their loved ones in the cemetery as houses for the dead for the rest of history. But as Christians, we know better. We know they’re seeds. When a seed is planted in the ground – we are excited and hopeful as we anticipate what’s to become of it. Although the potential is unseen, we know what sort of fruit that seed can bring about. Same with our loved ones. When their bodies are planted in the ground, the temptation is to think that this is their eternal resting place. But remember, they’re seeds. And so, their bodies wait for the right time when they will spring up like plants out of the grave.
We know this will eventually happen. Christ’s resurrection from the dead is proof positive of it! He is the firstfruit of more to come! For when you see the first tomato of the season growing on the tomato plant in the garden – you don’t assume that that’s the only fruit you’ll get all season. You know that more is on the way! The same is true with resurrection. Since we have the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the grave, we know that Christ is the firstfruits of our resurrection which is to come! Scripture even describes that HE is the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep. That is to say, since He has risen from the grave, we know that all bodies will rise from their graves too. There will be more fruit that will follow the firstfruits!
This way of describing Christ comes from 1 Corinthians 15, starting at verse 20 – “but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
And of course, if we see the bodies in our cemetery as seeds, we see them just as Paul describes. He says that these bodies are asleep, which emphasizes the temporary nature of our stay in the grave. But it also emphasizes the restful nature of our bodies, because our soul is at peace with Christ in heaven upon death. And Christ, at the last day, will come and awaken our bodies by His great power and might, because HE is the firstfruits of the resurrection of all mankind.
All this is ours because again, man and woman are the crown of His creation. Our creator wasn’t satisfied with the state of our sin and us being delivered over to eternal death. He wasn’t satisfied with the crown of His creation being lost forever. To redeem His creation from a body which simply decays in the heart of the earth, HE sent His Son, who incarnated into our flesh to win true victory over sin, death, and devil. To save us from decay, He entered the grave with His own wounded body. Yet, when the seed of His flesh took root from the ground, He burst from the tomb with life! To be the first of more fruits to come.
This was why He took on our flesh, and humbled Himself to be a servant to us! For death is our great enemy, and only Jesus could gain victory over it. For He took on the fruits of our sins, though He knew know sin, and died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath on mankind’s sin and rebellion! However, the grave could not hold the power of Christ. It could not hold the power of His love and mercy, given to forgive a rebellious people. By the fruits of His power and might, the sting of death is now lost for all mankind! Lead by Christ’s resurrection, we too will rise from our graves as a firstfruits of creation at the final judgment! Luther compared Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection to childbirth. He said, “after the head is born (the head being Christ), so will the whole body follow easily after (the body being the Church).”
The resurrection may seem like a far-off thing – especially as we look out across our cemetery. But the resurrection of Christ has living and present realities now! The resurrection of Christ means that we live our lives completely different now! Since we’ve received such a good and gracious gift as God dying on the cross to save us, renew us, and bring us to everlasting life, it completely changes our entire outlook on life! Because the seconds, minutes, and hours we live now aren’t just counting down the time until we die. We have the living hope of a life beyond this one! In this hope, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, we’re living the good life now that Christ has prepared for us for all eternity!
What does the resurrection mean for how we live now? It means that for us, to go on sinning is contrary to who Christ makes us to be. God has redeemed and saved us to be much more than the sins we commit. He’s redeemed us that we may be in communion with Him – not starting just at the resurrection, but having communion with Him NOW! For we are the crown of His marvelous creation. We are the fruit that follows Him, the firstfruits! He gives of Himself to us every week in the body and blood of Jesus, every day in Scripture and prayer to make us holy! In this newfound holiness, we die to our old sinful Adam. For we begin to hate the destructive old sinful flesh. For Christ has won for us a much better way – a life free from ourselves; a life bound to God.
We are the firstfruits of God’s creation, led by the firstfruits, Christ. Because He has risen from the dead, we too shall arise. And so we know, dead bodies are actually seeds that await vibrant and eternal life, animated by Christ who has defeated death. For He Himself has promised, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”