Luke 24: 1-12
Why Do You Look Among the Dead?
There are two things that are assured in life. Number one, you will pay taxes; number two, you will die. You’ve heard this right? The two things that are sure are death and taxes. And that’s true. And part of the absurdity of the Easter story, part of the absurdity of what we are celebrating today, is a declaration that death is not as sure as we thought. This is what we are celebrating: Jesus rose from the tomb, Jesus is not dead, and you do not have to die a spiritual death. Death is not as sure as we thought.
Anna Carter Florence was quoted as saying “if the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on? Resurrection, seen this way, breaks all the rules, and while most of us will admit that the old rules aren’t perfect – and sometimes are downright awful – at least we know them. They are predictable, a known quantity, and in this sense comforting. And resurrection upsets all of that.” In response, or in a summary, of that, David Lose replies, “Resurrection, in other words, throws off the balance, upsets the apple cart, and generally turns our neat and orderly lives totally out of whack.” And then he states a line, but he emphasized it in his paper, and I want you to hear this today; he says, “Which is why I think that if you don’t find resurrection at least a little hard to believe, you probably aren’t taking it very seriously!”
Have you ever walked in the door of the church with doubts? Did you walk in the door today with doubts? Have you ever thought that this was a cool story, but it probably didn’t happen exactly like that? That’s OK. That’s normal. And one of the things that I continually see as I go back to the story every year is just how normal it is to not believe that this is even possible, or to dismiss this story out of hand. Because even the apostles do that. They had the best sign in the world: they had the empty tomb, they were told by angels in glowing white robes. Yet we’re told in the Gospels that every single one of the apostles did not believe at first. And in some of the Gospels we’re told even the women did not believe at first.
Often times we believe that what we need to do in order to have what’s called an “Easter faith” is that we must believe with all of our being immediately; and to doubt is to bring judgment upon ourselves. That’s not the case. And one of the things I want to look at today is the question of what is a real Easter faith? What does it mean to have faith in Jesus?
I will tell you that the people in our story today who have the most Easter faith are the women. These three women who head to the tomb are showing a level of faith that we all should aspire to. But remember, these women are coming to the tomb not to see if Jesus was alive; they are not coming to the tomb because they heard the same words the disciples heard and they actually interpreted them correctly when the disciples did not. They are not coming because they understood all that talk about tearing a temple down and rebuilding it in three days, or because they remembered when Jesus said that he would be raised from the dead after he was was put to death. They’re coming to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper and right burial.
The women had been at the cross on Friday, and they saw as two of the Jewish leadership claimed Jesus body, and quickly wrapped him in cloth, and laid him in one of their own tombs as quickly as they could. They were under a time crunch before the Sabbath, so they had to get it done in less time than they needed. So they did everything they could, they put them in the tomb, and they roll the stone over the front. Now though, it’s Sunday, the first day of the week, and the women have time. So they go to the tomb in order to give him a proper burial, as laid out in the traditions and the law.
And even though the women did not understand what Jesus said, even though the women do not believe that he is alive or that he even could be alive at this moment, they are still showing an Easter faith. Because faith is not defined by what we believe, faith is not defined by acquiescing to a creed; faith is defined by trusting in God. And that definition of trust is twofold. First, we trust that God will come through. So we have hymns like “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and psalms like “Your love endures forever.” This is a faith that God will come through; that even if we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, God remains our comfort.
The women are showing this faith because they head to the tomb on Sunday morning when there is a big stone in the way. And they know that there is a big stone in the way because they watched Joseph and Nicodemus roll the stone in front of the tomb. And I am guessing that first century Palestinian women skipped leg day. My guess is that they are not able to remove the stone. In one of the other Gospels they even begin talking to each other how they are going to move the stone, and they basically say they don’t know but God will provide a way. They trust that because they are doing what God commands them to do, God will provide a way for the stone to be removed. God will come through for them. They are trusting in that belief. That is one level of faith: a faith that God will come through and so you keep pushing forward trying to do the the best things you can in this world because you believe God will be there in the end. And of course, when they get to the tomb the stone is already rolled away. Indeed God did do that for them.
The second part of faith defined as trust is a trust that God actually knows what he’s talking about; a trust that God knows best. And therefore, we follow what God commands us to do as best we can. And none of us are perfect. At least I would assume that none of us in this room are perfect. So we all will miss the mark occasionally from what God wants us to do. But we strive to do what God wants us to do because we trust that God knows what he is talking about, and we trust that God will lead us in the right direction.
These women show this faith as well. There was a command show justice and compassion upon the lowly. And they knew Jesus was innocent. They couldn’t stop the crucifixion but they knew Jesus was innocent, and that he deserved compassion, and thereby they are going to do what they can to ensure justice in death at least; ensuring this man receives a proper burial. And so they leave as soon as they can to make sure this happens because they had faith in God and therefore wish to do right by God. That’s what I mean when I say that we need an “Easter faith.” And we do we need an Easter level of faith.
But there is much that holds us back from this kind of faith. And one of the things that holds us back is that we begin to put upon Jesus qualifications, requirements, expectations that not even the disciples were willing to put upon him; ones that he never seems to suggest that he’s going to do. Sometimes I get asked the question “why doesn’t Jesus to show up at my front door? If God would just show up and knock on my front door, and say ‘hey, I’m Jesus, I’m alive, you should go to church,’ then I will go to church. If your God is all-powerful, why doesn’t he do that? He did it for Paul.”
And the first answer to that is that he did show up on our front door once, and we crucified him. But secondly, if you look at the Easter story, he does not do that even for the disciples; even for Peter, the person who he’s going to build his church upon. He doesn’t show up at their front door; he waits at the tomb. He waits to see if anyone cares enough to come and minister to him. And then when the women come to the tomb, and he meets the women at the tomb, he sends the women to the apostles. He still doesn’t come himself. Only when all of that fails does he finally come and show himself to them.
But even then he chastises them for requiring him to show up. Even when he does show up to the disciples, he doesn’t show up as someone who they immediately recognize as Jesus. He doesn’t show up in sparkling white clothes, and dazzling white aura, with the halo above his head that’s 3 feet wide like you see in the pictures. He shows up as a broken man with a hole in his side and with blood on his head. The passage right after this in the Gospel of Luke has two disciples of Jesus walking down the road, and Jesus comes and meets with them, and has a conversation that probably lasted about six hours, and during the entire conversation they do not recognize him.
Let me ask you this: what if Jesus has shown up at your front door and you didn’t recognize him? The reality is Jesus comes and visits us regularly. Scripture tells us that we encounter Jesus every time we help the least of these. Every time we help someone in need we encounter Jesus. Every time we take an honest attempt at studying the Scriptures, an honest attempt at prayer, even if you think you’re not doing it right, you still encounter Jesus. We encounter him in the midst of be the God-incidences; those times where you are going about your day and you run into just what you need at just the right moment, or when you are the one who is able to supply someone else’s need at just the right moment.
These God-incidences look like when you’re deciding where to go for dinner, and pizza sounds really good, and in the back of your head a little voice says, “go to Gambino‘s and not Pizza Hut.” So you do. And you walk in to pick up your pizza, and sitting over on the table is your friend from high school who you haven’t seen for 25 years. And you say hi, and say “hey, how is everything going?” And they say “well, my spouse was just diagnosed with cancer, and I don’t know what to do.” And you hold a two hour conversation that would never happen if you had gone to Pizza Hut. You’ve encountered Jesus in them. And they’ve encountered Jesus in you.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be that big of a thing. When I was in college I worked the graveyard shift at Hardee’s. And I would often have to be in class all day, and I would walk into Hardee’s having not slept since the previous night. Now when we get sleep deprived bad things could happen, and one of them is that you can get very testy. And I would begin to get angry because everything was not going perfectly that night. I would begin to be frustrated, and begin to ask God what is going on,and why won’t you just let me have nice things? Maybe you’ve been there. I still have four hours left in my shift though, so I need to get control of myself. And there would be someone who would go through the drive-through, and they would order, and they would pick up the food, and they would hand me a one dollar tip. And a one dollar tip was enough to get a roast beef sandwich, which was the perfect stress eating food. And it would calm me down.
And every time this happened I would be reminded by that little voice in the back my head that said, “hey, I’m still here. I still care about you.” Now, did any of those people who went through the drive-through know that they were being an angel to me in that moment? Probably not. They probably were just being nice and giving a tip to the person working the drive-through at 2 AM. But they were Jesus for me in that moment. They were evidence for me in that moment that God exists, and that God sees me, and that God cares about me.
Of course the issue with all of these is that every single one of them could be written off as coincidence. I could have written off that this person wanted to give me a one dollar tip as just coincidence and not attributed it to God. There is absolutely nothing empirically that says I couldn’t do that. And often this is exactly what we do with these God-incidences, with the small moments where God enters into our life: we often just write them off as chance. We look for these big neon signs of evidence for God, and then God shows up in the exact same way that God is always showing up in the world throughout all of Scripture, and we write it off. Part of having Easter faith is looking for Jesus in the right ways.
There’s a line in this that really stuck out to me this week, and that was the line, “why do you look for the living among the dead?” Why do you look for the living among the dead? That just struck me this week as not only something that I find myself doing from time to time, but something that I know this world, and this country, does all the time: they look for Jesus not where he is, but where they think he should be. They look for Jesus among the graves when he is risen.
What that means is that you look for Jesus upon your rules, and you only accept evidence of Jesus if it meets your ever expanding list of criteria for what it would mean for God to show up, and for something to not just be the power of humans. Looking for God among tombs of our lives upon means looking for God in the things that are around us that blind us to the rest of the world. A horse with blinders on cannot see all of the world around them, they only can see what’s in front, because they have put this thing on that limits their vision. This is similar to the tombs of our lives. These things that limit our vision, the things that take our energy from us and suck our life from us. You know these things. The things you engage in that leave you less alive then you walked in. They are the things that bring evil and distraction into the world: hatred, anger, violence, social media from time to time. There are many in this world who do not, indeed cannot, see Jesus in the everyday. And I wonder if they do not see Jesus because they have been in their tombs for too long. It is easy to miss Jesus in the everyday if you’re not looking in the right places.
Looking for Jesus among the living means looking for evidence in the places that he said he would be. Where two or three are gathered, there Jesus will be. When you go into a meeting and it takes a complete left turn, and everyone says “yes, this is perfect. It wasn’t what I expected, but this is perfect,” Jesus has shown up. The places that Jesus has shown up for people in the past, he is likely to show up again. So you look to the 2000 years of church leaders that have found Jesus, see where they found him, and you look in the same kinds of places.
Look for Jesus among the living. That includes today. As you go to lunch, as you continue worshiping here, look for Jesus. That includes next week, both during the week and next Sunday. Be somewhere with other people looking for Jesus, whether that is here (we’d love to have you back), or whether that is somewhere else; be somewhere looking for Jesus amongst those who are also looking for Jesus. But however you do it, I am asking you get out of the tombs. For God is not in the tombs. Jesus is among the living. Go and look for him there. If you do, if you do you earnestly seek after God with an Easter level faith, you will find him. I promise. Amen.