NOTE: DevotiONEighty is off this week. It will return next Monday, April 8th.
(Sermon for Saturday, March 30, 2013 || The Easter Vigil || Year B || Luke 24:1-12)
I doubt they slept much the last two nights, the women who rose early on the first day of the week to minister to their dead Lord. Every time they shut their eyes, I’m sure they saw the silhouette of Jesus’ cross in the distance, his limp body all but unrecognizable because of his torturous hours hanging there. And because dead bodies never, ever look like the lives ones they were a moment before; especially Jesus’ body, he who was so full of abundant life that he was just giving of his abundance to anyone who asked. No, I doubt these women slept much, though if they did finally fall into fitful slumber, it was because they cried themselves to sleep. When all you have left is your tears, you’d want to hoard them; but that’s when they flow all the more freely.
I’m sure the tears began again when they awoke early on the first day of the week. New grief is like that. Each morning you wake and remember again that your loved one is gone, and again the pain stabs you anew, just as fresh as the first time. But even in the midst of their grief, these women took up their burdens of fragrant spices and trudged out into the darkness, so they could arrive at the tomb at first light.
But these brave women, who are ready to care for the body of their Lord, to do their duty out of love and compassion, are making the happiest mistake in the history of mistakes. They are prepared to wash and anoint a lifeless body, but what they find is no body at all. They find an empty tomb, save for a discarded burial shroud. Their grief threatens to overwhelm them because the duty they were planning to perform – the one they had been clinging to since his death – is gone now, too. They didn’t think they could be more desolate, but they were wrong. The empty tomb magnifies their desolation.
But into this scene of despair and grief comes the sudden presence of two gleaming messengers. They enlighten the woman as to their mistake: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has arisen.” Then they remind the women what Jesus had said about himself while they were all still in Galilee.
The women remember Jesus’ words, and first one, then another, then another breaks out into a tentative smile. “Could it be true?” they ask each other.
“Yes, yes, yes it could.”
“Jesus never lied to us.”
“How could we forget his words?”
Then one repeats the messengers’ question: “Why are we looking for the living among the dead?”
This question echoes down through the centuries, and we find ourselves asking it when we read the beginning of the final chapter of Luke’s account of the Gospel. Why do you look for the living among the dead? How often in our day-to-day lives could we hear the gleaming messengers asking us this question? How often do we trudge down the well-worn path to life-defeating things hoping this time – maybe this time – something life-affirming will happen?
Perhaps you’ve had a string of boyfriends who were real losers. Your friends tell you so at every opportunity, but you’ve got a blind spot for bad boys. They treat you with no respect. From time to time they’ve even called you a name that I can’t say during this sermon. And yet you meet another one and all the signs are there, but you dive in headfirst anyway. To you the gleaming messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Perhaps you’ve been sober for three months. Your sponsor hands you your chip and slaps you on the back. You’ve got a couple of other three-month chips in a drawer somewhere, but that’s not on your mind right now. On your way home from the meeting, you run into an old buddy from back in the day. The next morning, you stagger to the drawer and toss the newest chip in. Maybe you’ll get another one in a few months time. To you, the messengers say, “Why do you look for living among the dead?”
Perhaps you work through your family vacation because you’ve got too many projects on your plate. Or you spend every waking hour mindlessly surfing YouTube and Facebook. Or you derive your self-worth only by what others say of about you. To you – to all of us – the messengers say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ spurred this question all those centuries ago. The women made the happy mistake of looking for a dead Christ, when the Risen One was alive again. They brought to the tomb their grief, their tears, and their emptiness. And they left them there because the power of the Risen Christ outshone any desolation left in them.
When we look for life-affirming answers in the midst of life-defeating things, we replicate the women’s happy mistake, but with none of their good intentions. When we look for the living among the dead, we are trudging the well-worn path to the newly hewn grave where a dead messiah awaits. That way is full of tears and lifelessness.
But the good news of the Resurrection is this: when we arrive at the tomb, at rock bottom, at the ends of our ropes, we will find the Living Christ shining radiantly in the midst of our dead messiahs. We will find his empty tomb, which is ready to receive all of our muck, all of our bad choices, all of our life-defeating tendencies. When we deposit all of our dead ends there, we can leave the tomb unencumbered, and chase off after the Risen Christ, fresh, free, and born anew.
So why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has arisen.