First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?, Luke 24:1-12
First United Methodist Church, April 21, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer

Their news was incredible, unbelievable, beyond anything that anyone had ever seen before.

Sure, Jesus had warned them, told them in pretty complete detail what would happen.  They listened.  Ok. “So, where do you suppose we’ll get lunch today?” They moved on. They were immersed in their present reality, and some of that was pretty good!  Some of it was a little scary, but Jesus was there…with them.  He was in charge.  He knew what he was doing. They may not have understood him, but they trusted him. Everything, they were sure, would be okay.

But then it wasn’t. Jesus died. A cruel and awful death.

The tables had turned pretty quickly. Suddenly everything was out of control. Even from our distance and perspective its hard to comprehend how the mood of the people had changed so dramatically. One day they’re singing, “Hosanna in the Highest, blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!!” And almost the next day they’re demanding his execution.

The disciples are stunned. Numb. Uncertain. We can understand that after having experienced tragedies of our own.

But you do what you have to do. You do what your culture and tradition expects of you.  Answering questions and making funeral arrangements is something you can DO when feeling is too painful. Preparing the spices focused these women who had known and followed and loved Jesus in life. Preparing his body now, was their way of honoring him, of doing SOMETHING, when nothing else could be done.

But when they arrive at the tomb, his body is gone.

They look at each other. What now?  What’s happened? Who would take him?  Why?

Before the words can come out of their mouths, 2 men appear beside them, dressed in gleaming white clothing. Perhaps you’re hesitant to believe in the existence of angels—but messengers appear, and as you would expect, the women are frightened. They bow their faces to the ground. Maybe they’ll go away?

But the messengers/the men/the angels remain and they speak to the women: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here! Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee…that he would be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the 3rd day rise again?”

With that, they DO remember what Jesus had said, and now, with his body gone, they begin to understand…maybe not with their heads, but their hearts are beginning to understand what Jesus had said. Okay, this is it.  This is what he meant.

The women go and tell the disciples what they have seen and heard, and the disciples roll their eyes at them.  They think they’re making it up. “Really. Okay.” But Peter listens and runs to the tomb. He needs to see for himself. He stoops down and looks in. The body of Jesus is gone. The only thing remaining are his grave clothes. Peter steps back and away, shaking his head. Puzzled.

It is a lot to absorb, isn’t it? Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead in Bethany. Lazarus had been dead for 3 days when Jesus arrived at the home he shared with his 2 sisters, Mary and Martha. We might create our own explanation of what happened that day.  Maybe he was in a coma, or something like that.  We can always make excuses to NOT believe when something surprising or unexpected happens, can’t we?  We seek logical explanation to rationalize what we’re not able to understand, don’t we?  Even if we have to make something up to fill in the blanks.  

But what if the explanation is simply this: Jesus died, and the power of God raised him back to new life. It wasn’t restoration like Lazarus experienced. Jesus didn’t return to the life he once had, but he was transformed in a way that his presence would be known, felt and experienced from that day forward. He wouldn’t live to die again; he would live so that we, too, can live in a way that we would not have otherwise known possible.

That’s the power of God. That’s the power of the resurrection.

What’s puzzling is how we continue to live without acknowledging or trusting or embracing that power. What’s puzzling is how we keep doing things our own way, the safe way, when God offers us another way…a better way.  What’s puzzling is when we continue to fuel and visualize our lives and our futures and what we can accomplish  based on our own resources and abilities, rather than trusting/having faith in the One who has shown us that He can bring new possibilities out of our dead ends, life out of death.

There are 3 things that I think are important for us to consider in light of this day:  

The first is this:  When the women arrive at the tomb and see that the body of Jesus is gone, the angels appear and the women respond in terrified awe.  All of this is completely beyond their understanding and expectation.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the pivotal moment of our Christian faith. The moment gives meaning to Christmas and every other day of the year. It is life-changing, earth-shaking, game-changing and so completely beyond our comprehension—and we’ve just gotten used to it.  We receive it with maybe less enthusiasm than we do an awesome chocolate dessert that’s been placed before us.  

But, this morning, at least for a bit—even in this age of amazing special effects, awesome medical technology, all man-made and admittedly brilliant—let’s put ourselves into the sandals of those women on that first Easter morning. Let us consider those first few dreadful moments of silence when they don’t know what else to do but to look down, or fall down with their faces in the dirt, as they realize that what is happening is a God-thing, a holy moment, completely beyond their comprehension/ understanding/reality. They have no good words to describe it—it’s no wonder the disciples think they’re speaking nonsense!

Let us, on this resurrection Sunday, allow God to AWE us, because what happened is truly awesome, what happened that first Easter morning impacts our faith and our lives today and always.

Secondly:   Hear the question the angels ask the women: Why do you look for the living among the dead?   How long do we hang onto our former ways of doing things, or just try to breathe life into what we’ve done before because we’re hesitant to try something new? We hate to change, even if what we’re doing isn’t working! How long will we cling to the good ole days, say things like, It was good enough for us, it should be good enough for them, too?  How often do we expect different results from the same old ways of doing things? The word of the angels to the women challenge us to stop hanging onto the dead and to move into new life!  They are reminders that Jesus is present wherever new life bursts forth!!

And finally, hear again the angels’ words to the women: “Remember how he told you that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”  When they say this, the women DO remember. They connect the empty tomb to the very human Jesus who ate and talked and suffered and died.

It’s up to us to tell God’s story to our children, and to those who haven’t heard it before, so that the word of God can have an impact on their everyday lives. When the stories of God’s love and grace are shared and taught, they’ll come to mind in the midst of a conversation, in the midst of a decision, in the midst of pain or suffering. That memory can bring guidance, peace, direction, connecting their real lives to living faith.

There’s real power in the resurrection. Real power that can change us, change our church, our community, and our world.  Will we trust it, embrace it, call upon it? Or will we keep trying to figure it out ourselves, and doing it on our own?

Holy God, because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, everything has changed. May we remember that we are an Easter people; may we embrace the possibilities that you have to offer.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.