The word of the day is “hope.” We think of hope as our expectation of something good that will happen in the future. In today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Paul vigorously defends the basis of our hope in Christ. It is His glorious resurrection. Against those in Corinth who were denying the resurrection of believers, the Apostle states, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (vs. 17-18.) Today, we will consider that if the basis of our hope is that Christ is risen, then our hope is more than an expectation. Our hope is also an anticipation.
Hope Looks Forward to What is Foreseen
The Greek word for “hope” refers to the confident waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises (Strong’s 85 #1679 and #1680). Hope looks forward to the completion of what is foreseen, as St. Paul says in Romans 5: “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience” (vs. 25).
In the Old Testament, God’s promises given to Abraham were the basis of hope as St. Paul writes, ”Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made” (Galatians 3:16; see also Hebrews 8:6). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ fulfilled the promises of the Law and the Prophets as he declared, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill [them” (Matthew 5:17).
The Basis of our Hope is a Past Event
But note carefully what St. Paul is saying in today’s reading. The basis of our hope is not a pledge for the future. It is a past event that guarantees our future. Christ has already risen from the dead. He is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]” (1 Cor. 15:20).
In other words, Christ’s resurrection is a present reality. We affirm this truth when we greet one another saying, “Christ is in our midst!” You see, this Jesus who is among us is the same Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day. The Lord proclaimed this Gospel in Revelation, saying, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen” (vs. 1:18).
The Reality of the Resurrection is Already Here
Note therefore that the reality of the resurrection is already here. It started with Christ’s rising from the tomb. He is the “first fruits of those that have fallen asleep” 1 Cor. 15-20. Moreover, in our baptism, we were united to Christ to share in His life (Galatians 3:27 and the Orthodox Baptism Service). St. Paul writes, “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:5). Our baptism assures us that just as we were lifted out of the baptismal water to live the New Life in Christ, so we will be raised from death to eternal life. Thus, our baptism signifies more than a promise for some undetermined future. It anticipates the inevitable and final fulfillment of the past event and present reality of Christ’s resurrection which we share as the baptized.
“The Christian faith is not primarily a set of doctrines or moral teachings, but a new way of life inspired and made possible by the reality of the resurrection [thus] the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely an abstract doctrine to believe in, not merely an isolated past event to assent to intellectually, but an organic reality to enter into and assimilate into one’s being in Christ’s body, the Church” (Shanbour 2016).
Shanbour, Michael. 2016. Know the Faith: A Handbook for Orthodox Christians and Inquirers. Chesterton, Indiana: Ancient Faith Publications.