In the whole of 1 Corinthians 15, Saint Paul is less comforting the mourners and more trying to exhort the believers into a better expression of the Christian life. This passage we look at today is definitely aimed at the mourners, even if their situation is somewhat different than the ancient Church at Corinth.
Behold, I tell you a mystery.
We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed,
in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility,
and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.
And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility
and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality,
then the word that is written shall come about:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God
who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first part of this passage echoes an earlier writing of Saint Paul in Thessalonians. We looked at it here. I like this first part of the reading. Paul calls us closer, like he’s sharing a very important insight: a professor quieting down and getting the whole class’s attention. Or a trusted guide taking us aside and gesturing to the trail ahead, drawing back the curtain on some new wonder. And so it will be.
Paul borrows from deeper in his Judaism, too. Isaiah (25:8, another funeral selection) contributes verse 55 (green) and Hosea gives verse 56 (blue), and the two quotations from the different prophets make for a fitting taunt of human mortality. I suppose it’s fine for us to poke at death, the eventual vanquished, from behind the robes of the Lord.
I do think that the passage from Isaiah 25:6-9 makes for a good pairing with this 1 Corinthians. It gives the mourners a message of hope. It’s a quiet sequence in which we acknowledge things don’t seem right–just yet. Perhaps we think our hopes have been defeated, and we doubt the time after death. But the apostle Paul is a trusted guide. And even more, we can rely on Christ. If this message of comfort needs to be built up in the mourners, then chose a good gospel message to follow. Let Jesus have the last word, because it’s sure going to be a good one when that last trumpet wails.