On its own, Jesus’s death on a Roman cross was nothing unusual. Thousands were killed in this cruel manner, a gory visual aid to show the power of the empire and the futility of resistance. But only Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection shows that Jesus’ willing self-sacrifice was effective and that our sins really have been forgiven. But that happened 2,000 years ago and we are still waiting for God to finally come good on his promises. The hope that was on offer back then – those rooms in his Father’s house, that kingdom which was so near, the end to their suffering – feels like a rather hopeless cause after all this time. The resurrection paradox, like the love paradox, seems to disprove, not prove, the promises God makes.
Paul uses a powerful metaphor of ‘firstfruits’ to help us understand why the resurrection resolves the paradox of continuing hope with continuing disappointment. The ‘firstfruits’ was the first and best of the crop, which under Jewish law was offered to God as a thankful recognition for the long-awaited taste of the harvest they had received; but also as a recognition of trust as they waited for the remainder of the harvest. The idea of ‘firstfruits’ implies ‘later fruits’, operating as a guarantee for the fullness of the harvest to come.
Similarly, the resurrection of Jesus is a foretaste and guarantee of the resurrection of the whole of creation. It is God’s promise of restoration of the whole universe, and yet it deliberately leaves us hungry for more. The high calling of 1 Corinthians 13 provides us not only with a taste of true love in the midst of heartache and cruel relationships, but the reminder of the perfect love that is to come. The love paradox reminds us to keep loving each other not just despite the difficult relationship issues that we are surrounded by, but because of them. Those fragments of patience, justice, beauty, healing, restoration, selflessness, protection that we can bring to our relationships are firstfruits – a taste of the future. And this is not just for our own personal benefit, or even for the benefit of humanity, but for all of creation awaiting the promise of restoration.