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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Easter

The Living and The Dead

Luke 24:1-12

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:

Easter - OLD and YOUNG.jpg

(Some see an older woman, some see a younger woman; Some say that may depend on your age.)

Easter - Profile.jpg

(The way he’s looking depends on the way you’re looking, perhaps.)

Easter - Cat.jpg

(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.

Easter Plates Final.jpg

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.

The Risen Christ Says Yes

John 20:1-18 (The Message)

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. She ran at once to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, breathlessly panting, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed. No one yet knew from the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. The disciples then went back home.

But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she knelt to look into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there, dressed in white, one at the head, the other at the foot of where Jesus’ body had been laid. They said to her, “Woman, why do you weep?”

“They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize him.

Jesus spoke to her, “Woman, why do you weep? Who are you looking for?”

She, thinking that he was the gardener, said, “Mister, if you took him, tell me where you put him so I can care for him.”

Jesus said, “Mary.”

Turning to face him, she said in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” meaning “Teacher!”

Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went, telling the news to the disciples: “I saw the Master!” And she told them everything he said to her.

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God our Father, from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit who unites us in faith. Amen.

A common principle in mysticism and spiritual teaching across religions is that you cannot truly see or understand anything if you begin with a no.

We see only what we choose to see, consciously or subconsciously. We can’t say yes to everything; after all; there is simply too much stuff in the world for us to absorb and comprehend it all. Saying no is our brain’s way to avoid overstimulation. Think of it like a camera lens. When there is too much light on the subject that you are shooting with a camera, the lens aperture must restrict. So too, our brains restrict the input of our senses to allow only that which we already think we know, expect, and understand.

Any posture of humility must begin with an awareness that things exist even if we don’t see, know, expect, or understand them. If we are closed off to new possibilities, insights, or realities, we are no different than the baby boy who is confident his father is really gone when his face disappears behind his hands during a game of peek-a-boo.

“We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see. If we start with no, we usually get some form of no in return. If we start with yes, we are much more likely to get a yes back. Once we have learned how to say a fundamental yes, later no’s can be very helpful and are surely necessary. However, beginning with yes is the foundation of mature nonviolence and compassionate action. The Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.”*

In the resurrection account from the gospel of John, we see Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple all respond to Christ’s resurrection from a position of no. Mary sees the empty tomb and the only logical reason she can imagine is that Jesus’ body was moved by someone else. Despite Jesus’ repeated announcements that he would die and rise after three days, Mary’s brain could not even begin to entertain the idea that what Jesus had said was even a possibility. Likely she and the disciples hadn’t heard him say this at all – their spiritual aperture was too restricted to let that in.

Peter and the beloved disciple ran to the tomb to witness its emptiness and John says the beloved disciple “went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). Believed what? That Jesus was raised from the dead? No, because the scripture continues, “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead (John 20:9). The beloved disciple’s belief is not in the good news of the resurrection; rather, he believes that Mary wasn’t lying…Jesus’ body is in fact, gone. That is the extent of the bewildering scenario that he can process because he “did not understand.”

The great good news is that the Christ’s yes is able to break through their nos. No amount of denial or unbelief from the disciples would be able to negate the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Christ didn’t postpone his resurrection until people believed. Christ was and will forever be resurrected, regardless of whether our response to this good news is yes or no.

Despite starting with a no, something in the deepest depths of Mary’s mind wouldn’t let her walk away from the mystery of the empty tomb. Her spiritual aperture was opened just wide enough to allow one word from the gardener into her heart. “Mary,” he said. And with that one word her no became a yes.

It wasn’t just any word…it was her name. Not a judgy, dismissive, or frustrated use of her name; rather it was her name wrapped in the vocal inflection of loving invitation. Anytime someone who loves you utters your name, it is an invitation to deeper and more intimate relationship.

Have you ever lovingly uttered the name of someone whose posture is no instead of yes? It’s terribly difficult, but when it’s wrapped in the language of loving invitation, it is absolutely disarming.

On my best days as a parent this is how I respond when my kids’ behavior requires intervention. If they’re acting up, I have much more success in reaching them with a loving, calm, and inviting uttering of their names. When their emotions and volume increase, I find it best to respond with calm and quiet; invitation, never exclusion.

Of course, not all of my days are my best days as a parent. Sometimes I respond to their no with a louder and more demonstrative no of my own. However, I can’t remember a time when I responded that way and thought to myself, “Well done. That took a lot of courage to stand up to a 7 year old like that…you sure put him in his place. I’m sure he has newfound love and appreciation for you after that.”

Invitation over exclusion. Holding open over closing. Yes over no. Life over death. All of this can be communicated to someone simply in the way you say their name.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to say someone’s name in a new, more open and inviting way.

Perhaps on this Easter Sunday that is awash in the promise of new life, you are being invited to hear God calling to you in a new, more open and inviting way – a way that can turn your no into a yes.

Your yes will open your aperture will be opened to allow the fullness of God’s glory to make its way into your heart and mind. Once we have learned how to say yes to the God of unconditional love we will start to see it everywhere.

Remember, the Risen Christ is a great big yes to everything.

And so we respond with the Hebrew word for yes: Amen.

* Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, “Beginning with Yes.” August 12, 2016

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.