Sunday, March 27, 2016
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia! “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels ask the women at the empty tomb. We have the disadvantage of knowing the Easter story well – too well—that we forget where these women are coming from. These women were at Jesus’ crucifixion. “They stood at a distance and watched,” Luke tells us in chapter 23. And these same women followed Joseph of Arimathea who took Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrapped it in linen cloths, and laid it in a tomb. They “watched how Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb. Then they went to prepare some sweet-smelling spices for his burial. But on the Sabbath they rested as the Law of Moses commands.” This was the end of the story from Luke that we heard last week on Palm Sunday. Jesus was dead. The women saw him take his last breath on the cross, and they saw his body put in the tomb. They were getting ready to prepare his body for burial after the Sabbath, on Sunday morning.
Now, I realize that modern-day science has taught us many things since the days of Jesus, but these women knew about biological realities like birth, sickness, and death. Jesus was dead and there was absolutely no reason that they would find the tomb empty from how they left it on Friday night. Perhaps that fact can help us relate more to understand that their first reaction is not overwhelming joy, hope, or a sense of relief! Luke tells us the women were “perplexed” and “terrified.” These women do not speak to the angels, but I imagine if they did they’d say something like, “Why do we look for the living among the dead? Because Jesus IS dead! We’ve seen his dead body with our own eyes! What are you talking about?!”
The Easter story is about something much deeper, much more astounding and confusing than getting dressed in pretty spring clothes, pigging out on Easter candy (peeps being my favorite, I have to admit), and decorating hard-boiled eggs in pastel colors. As Christians we make the crazy assertion that when we hear that people are dead, they are not really dead. We believe that God has power over death. We believe that God even USES death for life-giving purposes – and not just for sentimental value so that Grandma can be with us forever (which is a nice thought) but so that the WORLD might be saved from darkness, despair, and destruction. Can we take some time this morning to let the power of this simple statement: “Jesus Lives!” sink in? (pause)
Wow, do we need the power of the Easter story this morning. On Tuesday of this week, we heard news of another terrorist attack in Europe- this time in Brussels – at least 31 dead, 250 wounded. On Friday, we said good-bye to our beloved long-time member Dorothy Nimrod, who died just shy of her 100th birthday. I know many of you here today are struggling privately with very difficult issues: mental illness, addiction, caring for parents or children who can no longer care for themselves, the list of our needs and reminders of the reality of death are all around us. If we want to look for signs that remind us that death is inevitable, we don’t have to look very far at all. In fact, I just noticed the other day that our flag has been flying at half-mast for almost a month now after the death of Justice Scalia, then Nancy Reagan, then with the Brussels attacks. At the loss of a loved one or when we hear of yet another tragic mass shooting or terrorist attack, if someone asked us, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” we’d call them crazy, insensitive, or worse. Just like for those women at the tomb, there’s plenty for us to be perplexed about, and plenty of stuff to be terrified about. The world and our own experience tells us that what is dead is dead. People who have died are gone. We will never see them again on this side of heaven. The women at the tomb know this, the disciples know this, we know it.
BUT –God has something else in mind for us! Jesus lives. Jesus lives so that we might live with him, even when we die. In Galilee 2000 years ago, Jesus lives. In this church, right here in Omaha Nebraska, in 2016, Jesus lives. And in Brussels, in Paris, in Columbine and in Sandy Hook…Jesus lives. Even death itself is no match for the power of God in Christ Jesus our Savior. We can look for death and easily find it– just hop on Facebook, look in the newspaper or turn on the TV. God in Jesus Christ gives us a different message: He is not here, among the dead, where you are looking. He has risen. He is living! God calls us to look for the living.
Each Easter, we hear a different gospel account of the same story of Christ’s resurrection: from Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke. This year, in Luke’s account, what’s remarkable is that the women and the disciples have not even SEEN Jesus yet. Did you notice? All they have is the angels’ message that Jesus is risen. They have the memory of the words that Jesus had told them: “The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” They haven’t seen Jesus yet, but they believe and hope against hope that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about death is in fact not true: that the dead aren’t really dead and that live in Jesus is more powerful than death. Wow. These women, these disciples, believe without seeing. That’s kind of where we’re at here today. We believe without seeing that Jesus lives. We look for the living even in places where death lurks. We believe God has the ultimate victory, and that we have live everlasting with God.
So, how do we look for the living, even in the face of death? Just recently I was reading in our Lutheran magazine about the ELCA’s missionary efforts in South Sudan. A Sudanese pastor who had served a church here in the States told people back in Sudan that in the winter here, everything looks dead: the grass is brown, there are no leaves on the trees, the weather is cold and gray. But every spring, flowers bloom, the grass turns green and grows again, the trees grow new leaves. Nature itself reminds us that there is life after death. We can look to the faith of those who face their own death knowing that there is more for them in the life to come with Jesus, like our beloved Dorothy Nimrod. Like those first women at the tomb, we can listen to the message of Christ’s resurrection and ask God to help us have the faith that it is true. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia! Look for the living, not the dead. Amen.