“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?”
That was the question the men in white garments asked the women in today’s Gospel reading. This is an important question for all of us people of faith on this Easter day. Because we often seek life among the dead. Jesus came to change all of that.
To be honest, it wasn’t even a fair question to ask of those women of faith. Oh, it’s easy for us to know that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb – we have a couple of thousands of years of Church teaching to lead us to the right conclusions. But they, and the disciples, had not been given any road maps or instruction sheets. They didn’t know what was going to happen and when, and they were puzzled.
All they knew is that Jesus, the one they had been devoted to, had been arrested, put through a farce of a trial, and had been killed in the most horrible, humiliating way possible, a death that was reserved for the most obdurate of criminals. To say that they were saddened and disappointed and confused and frightened – well those emotions just slightly scratched the surface. So they come to the tomb – the place where they had seen Jesus last – to prepare his body for burial. The stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, which was odd, because it had taken several men to seal it up, and when they went in to the tomb, Jesus’ body was not there. They had to be thinking, “Now what?”
As they were puzzling over this latest turn of events, things get even stranger. Two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. We aren’t told whether these men were angels or prophets or some other kind of heavenly messenger. All we know is that their appearance terrifies the women. After all, they were coming to complete the funeral rituals for their friend, and they are instead greeted by strangers with a puzzling message.
They are asked, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” Again, this is a startling question. They didn’t think they were seeking a living one, did they? No, they had just seen their friend crucified and placed in the tomb. They carefully noted where he was buried, and now they had come to complete his burial. They had abandoned hope, perhaps, that he was the living one.
But they are told to remember what Jesus had said to them. And when they thought about it, things finally started to make some sense. He had told them that he would have to suffer and die and rise again, and now they can see that that is what must have happened. So they go to tell the Eleven apostles what they had seen. But for them, the story seemed like nonsense and they didn’t believe. Only Peter comes to believe, after he goes to see the empty tomb himself.
It’s time for them to stop looking for the living one among the dead. They will come to see him risen and walking among them in the days to come. And that will reinvigorate their faith and help them come to see – finally – what Jesus has been trying to tell them ever since they met him. There is only one way to come to new life, only one way to rise up out of the grave, only one way to have sins forgiven, and that is through the mercy of our God in the person of Jesus Christ. He became one of us, he died the death we deserved to pay the price for our sins, and he has risen from the dead in order that we may have eternal life, forever shattering the power sin and death have over us.
So we need to stop looking for the living one among the dead too. We’ll never find real life by burying ourselves in work or careers. We’ll do nothing but damage our life if we seek to find it in substance abuse. We’ll never find our life by clinging to past hurts and resentments. We are only going to find life in one place, or more precisely in one person, namely, Jesus Christ.
Today, Jesus Christ broke the chains of death, and rose triumphant from the grave. What good would life have been to us, if Christ had not come as our redeemer? Because of this saving event, we can be assured that our own graves will never be our final resting place, that pain and sorrow and death will be temporary, and that we who believe and follow our risen Lord have hope of life that lasts forever. Just as Christ’s own time on the cross and in the grave was brief, so our own pain, death, and burial will be as nothing compared to the ages of new life we have yet to receive. We have hope in these days because Christ who is our hope has overcome the obstacles to our living. We no longer need to seek the living one among the dead.
The good news today is that we can find the living one today and every day of our lives, by coming to this sacred place. It is here that we hear the Word proclaimed, here that we partake of the very Body and Blood of our Lord. An occasional experience of this mystery simply will not do – we cannot just partake of it on Easter Sunday. No; we must nurture our faith by encountering our Risen Lord every day, certainly every Sunday, of our lives, by hearing that Word, and receiving his Body and Blood. Anything less than that is seeking the living one among the dead.