Why do you look for the Living Among the Dead? | PCSeattle

A sermon on Luke 24:1-12 by Rev Richard Keith on Easter Day 2022

Life is full of important questions. Questions like, Why are things always in the last place you look? And, wouldn’t it be easier if people just looked there first?

On that first Easter morning the women went to look for Jesus. They thought they knew where he was. But he wasn’t in the first place they looked. And that’s because they went to find Jesus’ body. They went to find his corpse. They went to his tomb and took with them the spices they had prepared.

His tomb was a cave cut in the rock of the side of a hill. A large round stone had been carved that could be rolled back and forth to block or to clear the entrance to the tomb. Jesus’ body had been put in it on the afternoon of his death and then the Sabbath had started at sunset. There had only been time for the women to make hurried preparations. Jesus body had been wrapped in a linen sheet, what is often called a shroud, and then his face was wrapped in a separate cloth.

So the spices the women carried had been prepared over the Saturday and now on the Sunday morning when the Sabbath had ended they came to the tomb to finish the job. To rub Jesus’ body with the spices and perfumes so that people could keep visiting the tomb. It wasn’t much in return for all that Jesus had done for them. But with him dead and gone, it was all that they could do.

As they went to the tomb, their heads were full of questions. Important questions like, if the soldiers were still there, would they be arrested? And, if the soldiers weren’t there, who would roll away the stone for them?

They arrived at the tomb with those questions answered, only for deeper concerns to arise. The soldiers were gone and the stone was rolled away, but where was the body of Jesus? The tomb was empty and they didn’t know where to look. The Jewish and Roman leaders had conspired to take Jesus’ life. But what forces were at work to take all that they had left?

Two men in gleaming clothes arrived to ask even more questions. Why? they asked. Have you ever noticed how threatening the question, Why? is? Why did you put that there? Why didn’t you do what I asked you to? Why weren’t you here when you said you’d be? It asks for reasons, causes, motives that explain or justify an action. Why, the two men asked,

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Now, it looks like a question. It starts with, Why, asking for a reason and it ends with a question mark. It looks for all money like a question. But it is actually a mild rebuke. It means, you should have known better than to look for Jesus here  in the wrong place. This is a tomb. This is a place of death. Here you will only find the dead. But nobody lives here. Nobody makes their home here. And you, the women who knew Jesus, who followed him, who served him and even loved him, you should have known better. Because if you really knew Jesus and all he stood for and all he lived for, this should have been the last place to look for him.

To further complicate matters their next message was,

He is not here.

Now, when I was a kid at school, I loved to be sent on messages to other teachers. It was a great way to get out of school work and to go wandering around the school in the slowest way possible. The one thing I dreaded was to arrive at the other teacher’s classroom only to find that the teacher wasn’t there. “She isn’t here. He isn’t here.” It’s not good news, it only raises more questions. What do I do now? Where do I go? At school it usually just meant going back empty handed to the place I’d come from.

The good news for the women was not that Jesus wasn’t in his tomb. If he wasn’t here, then they had no idea where to look for him. The good news came next.

He has risen.

Like come back from the dead, like he’d only been sleeping and woken up, but he hadn’t been sleeping, he’d been dead but now he wasn’t, he was alive.

Of course, that’s the message hidden in the mild rebuke. Why do you look for the living, meaning Jesus, meaning that Jesus was alive. Why do you look for Jesus in his tomb, when he doesn’t need it anymore? You don’t look for a butterfly in its cocoon. So why would they you look for him in this place of death when he is alive? For Jesus died on the first Good Friday, but on that Easter morning he was the living one, risen from the dead, snatched from death and taken beyond death’s grasp.

But that still didn’t help them find Jesus. For that they needed to remember what Jesus said.

Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.

This reminded them that it had been planned to happen in the way it did, just that they hadn’t been brave enough, or hadn’t wanted, to believe it. But it had happened the way that Jesus had said it would. He had been handed over into the hands of sinful people. He had been crucified. And on that Sunday, the third day, counting Friday as the first day, he had risen to life. It meant that Jesus was a prophet. It meant that Jesus was a man of God. It meant that all the bad things people had said about him were wrong. And that all that Jesus had said about himself was right. He’d been condemned. But he’d been vindicated. His conviction overturned and quashed in a higher court. He’d been released from the prison of death and raised to life. So that the women’s spices and perfume, though prepared with love, were no longer necessary. Because Jesus no longer needed them.

What was needed was for them to go back and to tell the other disciples the good news. That Jesus had been raised, alive and vindicated. Whether they were believed or not was not important. It was for Jesus himself to show himself alive. But they were not to keep the news to themselves. Just as they had tried to love the dead Jesus with their spices and perfume, they now needed to show that some love for the living Jesus by sharing that news.

Today we have pondered important questions. It’s time for  some important answers. And the most important answer is that Jesus is no dead hero who lives on in our hearts as long as we remember him. That’s who the women went to look for. A man they loved who was dead and gone. They took their spices and perfumes to his grave but they didn’t find him there. They didn’t imagine they saw him because that’s what they expected to find. It was, in fact, the last thing they expected. Nor were they comforted when they found his tomb empty. They weren’t overjoyed. They were surprised. They were puzzled. They were worried. The message that Jesus was alive    came against all their expectations. And that makes their message that Jesus is alive all the more credible. These women and others who believed their message later risked their lives, not for a dead hero, but for their living Lord.

Secondly, Jesus is who he claimed to be. The son of God who came to save. All the things he said came true. As Matthew’s gospel puts it.

He has risen, just as he said.

So thirdly, we find Jesus as the women did when we remember his words. When we repent and believe the good news, as he said. When we take up our cross and follow him, as he said. When we go into all the world and make disciples of all people, as he said. It is in remembering Jesus’ words and in putting them into practice, it is in the act of discipleship that we find the living Jesus with us and in us and working through us.

Do not look for the living among the dead. Look for the living Lord Jesus in his words and deeds.