Why do you look for the living among the dead?

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Easter Sunday Year C April 21, 2019

Isaiah 65.17-25; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Cor. 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson


Grace and peace to you from the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Stories are powerful. Narratives are how we make sense of something … including our own lives and how we relate to others.

This morning we hear the unbelievable Easter story. For those of you who were here on Friday, you heard how Jesus died. Central to our faith is the belief that Jesus, the Son of God, died … really died. That Christ would be born into this world as a human child and suffer death is nothing short of scandalous.

The Almighty, the One through whom all things came into being, is supposed to be victorious … not hang on a cross and die. He is supposed to come down and rid the world of enemies. But he doesn’t. He dies.

That’s how our world works. People die and they stay dead. This is a horrible, awful truth.

So why would the women who go to Jesus’ grave that first Easter morning dawn, think anything different? They expected a dead body … Jesus’ body.

Instead, they find Jesus’ grave empty. The story tells us they were, “perplexed.” Instead of the empty tomb producing hope in them, they are confused. I know I would be.

“Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside” the women, which terrified them, of course. And in the midst of their fear, they hear the best, and most unexpected news: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here, but has risen.”

The women now have a story to tell and they know it. This kind of news has the power to transform the way people think, and imagine what could be possible.

So whether or not the women believed the messangers’ words, they did see the tomb empty, and they rushed to tell the only ones on earth who might believe the impossible … the apostles.

If anyone should believe that God raised Jesus from death, the disciples should. After all, he told them at least 3 times exactly what was going to happen, as the messengers pointedly reminded the women.

And shouldn’t they believe in a God who can raise people from the dead? God did, in fact, bring all things into existence from nothing. And didn’t they watch Lazarus come out of the tomb after 4 days of being dead? Didn’t they witness Jesus give people new life again and again?

So, hopeful and still perplexed, the first witnesses and preachers of the resurrection of Jesus, make their way to the only people who might actually believe their testimony.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women (who knows how many there were), proclaim the empty tomb and the messengers’ words to Jesus’ apostles: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus has been raised.”

Now, confusion or curiosity would be appropriate responses to such a tale, maybe even hope or belief, but that’s not how the story goes. The men take it to a whole new level.

Luke tells us they think the women’s witness to be the Greek word: Leros. It is the only time this word appears in all of Scripture. Our reading today translates it as an “idle tale.” But it really means the apostles thought the women were “out of their minds, crazy, and spouting nonsense (http://www.davidlose.net/2013/04/luke-24-11/).”

In another translation its says: “They said this to the apostles; and this message seemed to them just stupid, useless talk, and they didn’t believe them (Luke for Everyone, N.T. Wright, p. 289).”

The most likely people to believe in the resurrection completely reject the possibility. Some Easter morning, huh? It would be as if I would have said at the beginning of worship: “Christ is risen!” and you would all respond, “Yeah right!”

Truthfully, that’s how much of the world responds because our reality says differently most days. We still grieve our loved ones who are in the ground, or have returned to dust. What does resurrection have to say to them, or to us who long to see our deceased friends and family members: whole, bright, beautiful, and made new?

The apostles heard the women’s witness of Jesus’ resurrection, and yet everything around them seemed the same. They were still in the same world that killed Jesus, hiding out in fear that their lives would end next.

Theologian N.T. Wright makes sense of the disciples unbelief by saying: “It was simply that nobody had ever dreamed that one single living person would be killed stone dead and then raised to a new sort of bodily life the other side of the grave, while the rest of the world carried on as before (Luke for Everyone, N.T. Wright, p. 290).”

So if everything seems as it was before … people still get sick, violence still rules the streets, drugs keep people addicted, wars run rampant, justice is not served, and people still die … what does the resurrection mean for us?

In a way, you need to figure that out for yourself. I can only tell you the Easter story and share with you what it means to me.

In my life I have lost plenty of people close to me, one of which was my first husband, Ben. He died suddenly and tragically in an earthquake 9 years ago.

This past January, my husband Jon and I, told our oldest son, Gabriel, about Ben and what happened to him. For a four year old (or any age for that matter), this story is shocking and unfair.

We took Gabriel and Elias to Ben’s grave, and that’s when the questions started rolling. “Mommy, if we dig Ben up, he will be alive again.”

“No, sweetie, he won’t,” I admitted.

“I’m sad Ben died,” Gabriel said.

“Me too,” I said.

“Where is he right now?” he wondered.

“His body is in the ground, but we believe Jesus is with him,” I told him.

“Will I get to see Ben when Jesus comes again?”

“Yes, you will, Gabriel. I cannot wait for you to meet him.”
The only word I can use for the look on Gabriel’s face and the energy of his body is joy. “Oh yay!” he said.

“Oh yay!” is how we should feel about the resurrection.

I did not make this up to make my 4-yr. old feel better. I believe it deep in my bones. I believe it because God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will also raise Ben, and Gabriel, and me, and you. God is making all things new. I know this because I once felt dead and now I feel alive. That is how I know resurrection is real in this world where everything seems the same after loss.

Jon and I tell our story and the story of Ben, alongside the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can’t explain any of it; we know it just is.

Research tells us that “The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds (The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson, p. 29).”

This is what the women who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection are trying to do. They are making sense of something that is so complicated and unbelievable that all they can do is tell the story. It’s what Peter did when he ran to the tomb to see for himself.

We too keep telling the story even though some may think it an “idle tale.” This resurrection story becomes a part of us and helps us to imagine what can happen in the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ resurrection stretches our minds beyond what we think possible.

And then “we live on the basis of the resurrection,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer states (I Want to Live These Days With You, Bonhoeffer, p. 111).

We live as if it really happened and is happening. We live in the hope of resurrection and the power of the empty tomb. We participate in the new creation and look for life in the most unexpected places and people.

A good story always leave people wanting more. In her book, Inspired, Rachel Held Evans writes: “We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, ‘let me tell you a story’ (Inspired, Rachel Held Evans p. 221).”

Happy Easter, Heart River.