The Living and The Dead
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb taking with them the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, but they didn’t find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
The women were terrified and they bowed their faces to the ground. But the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead. He’s not here; he is risen. Remember how he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must suffer at the hands of sinners, be crucified and rise again on the third day.” Then they remembered these words and, returning from the tomb, they told all of this to the eleven and to all the rest.
Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But their words seemed to them an idle tale and they didn’t believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb. Stooping and looking inside, he saw the linen clothes lying there. And he went home, amazed at what had happened.
I want to have a little fun and start with some optical illusions and see what we can see, together. This first one is a classic, I imagine most of us have seen before. I remember seeing it for the first time in my High School Psychology class:
(Some see an older woman, some see a younger woman; Some say that may depend on your age.)
(The way he’s looking depends on the way you’re looking, perhaps.)
(How many say the cat is walking up the stairs? How many say the cat is walking down the stairs?)
Now, the words from those guys in the dazzling clothes at the tomb in this morning’s Gospel, had me wondering about optical illusions and about the tricks our eyes can play on us – and our heads and our hearts, too. And their question is convicting and powerful and covers a lot of ground – when you consider it through the eyes of faith:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
It seems, almost, like a rhetorical question, because they don’t seem to wait for an answer. Those guys in the be-dazzled duds, go right to reminding the women that Jesus had told them all of this would happen – that the Son of Man would be crucified at the hands of sinners, that he would die, that he would be buried, that he would rise again. “Remember how he told you…?”
Which they do, of course, finally; and it sends them back to where they came from telling the apostles and all the rest what they had found – or not found, as it turns out: That Jesus had risen. That death was defeated. That God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness and love had won the day. Just as he had told them it would.
So back to that question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” I believe it’s more than just a rhetorical question for those particular women in that particular tomb at that particular time. It’s a question for the ages, really. It’s a question for us, still. And it’s one I want to wrestle with and be challenged by this Easter and more often, in the days to come.
Because we do – too much of the time – look for the living among the dead, I think. I don’t mean we’re rushing to tombs, or hanging out in cemeteries, or pal-ing around with ghosts, of course. I don’t mean that life is a series of optical illusions or mind games or magic tricks, either. But, if by “life” we mean joy and value and peace of mind and hope for the future and self-worth and meaning… than I think we go looking for that kind of life in all the wrong ways and places, too much of the time.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
I’d say, because it’s hard not to. I’d say because the world around us does its damnedest to make us see what isn’t there – life where there is none, I mean: joy and value, peace and hope, self-worth and meaning where none of those things can actually be found.
Joy in our Social Media feed; Value in our net worth; Peace through politics; Self-worth measured against the opinions of others and the list goes on, right?
We value money and things and stuff. We self-medicate. We over-work. We keep up with the Joneses. We strive for perfection and admire it in others. We are addicted and numb and going through the motions and holding grudges. We are pointing fingers and keeping secrets and talking behind backs. We are afraid of children of God who look or live or believe differently than we do. We are okay with the status quo. We avert our eyes from the suffering of our neighbor. We look out for Number One at the expense of Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on.
Why do you…why do we…look for life and the living, among the dead and death-dealing ways of the world around us?
Because, just like those first followers of Jesus, we forget. We need to be reminded every once in a while about the places from whence real life comes.
Which is why I’m glad we’re here, today. What God does for us at Easter, is turn the tables on the ways of the world. In Jesus’ resurrection we’re meant to see the world through God’s eyes again. We’re meant to see that life comes from the ways of Christ. Real life comes from sacrifice and selflessness. Transformed life comes from humility and hopefulness. New life comes from graciousness and gratitude.
And the really good news of Easter is that, in God’s kingdom – which is alive and well among us, even now, people – life can come, even from the places that feel dead, to us; defeated; lost; failed; whatever you want to call it, or however it is you’ve experienced it, maybe.
Those of us who’ve been to Haiti or have heard the stories, find life in one of the poorest places on the planet every time. Our Agape ministry found some new life just Monday night on Indy’s east side, sharing food and friendship with some prostitutes like they do every month. Some of us experienced more than a little bit of life that same night in the prison up at Pendleton – a place where some light shined in the darkness for the inmates and for the rest of us, too, while we worshiped together.
Because of Easter’s good news – and thanks to those women who first heard and shared it so faithfully – we actually can, now, go looking for life and the living among the dead places of this world, and find it there.
I want to show you another picture of some upside down styrofoam plates.
But then I want to tell you that one of these plates or bowls is right-side up. And once you find it, all the others will be right-side up, too. (Cool, right?)
God’s grace and love, God’s forgiveness and mercy and promise for new life trump the world’s judgment and sin and death every time – and twice on Easter Sunday. And when we remember that, everything is turned right-side up for us.
Because God has defeated even death for our sake, we are invited to see the world in a new, hope-filled, life-giving way. Because God promises new life to us, not just on the other side of the grave, but every day that we draw breath on this side of heaven – we are called to stop looking for life in all the wrong places.
Because of Easter we are allowed to see all things and all people – and to see ourselves, too – through the lens of resurrection.
And when we do that, God’s hope and intention and joy will be to see us live differently because of it: to forgive our neighbor; to love our enemy; to care for the other; to broaden our circle; to take risks in sharing the same grace and love and mercy we long for, ourselves; and to stop looking for life in the dead and deadly ways of the world – unless it’s our plan to shine the promise of God’s new life into that darkness for the sake of all creation.
Amen. Alleluia. Happy Easter.