|The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio|
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Because this is where we left him-?
Wait, why are we looking for the what?
I am not getting the question here...
That’s kind of a jerky way to announce the resurrection, don’t you think? Sneaking up behind them, saying something like that...
How about a little “fear not?”
That’s an angel’s usual, helpful, first line, isn’t it?
How about a little, We don’t mean to startle you ladies, but you might want to sit down for this…
No, instead it’s a kind of sarcastic and unanswerable question.
I hate these kinds of why questions. My husband can tell you that.
Why did you put that down bag right where I was going to sit? Why did you leave the car on empty?
My kids hate that question too.
Why did you leave your coat on the floor? Why didn’t you put your shoes in the mudroom? How can you answer these types of why questions?
Because I wanted to be in your way.
Because I was trying to get in trouble.
Because I evidently wasn’t thinking.
Because, clearly, I am an idiot.
Sometimes why questions are real questions, but sometimes why questions are facetious, they’re meant to prove a point. If you tried to answer them really, you’d just feel dumb.
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
The simple answer is, as you know, angels, they weren’t.
They were not looking for the living at all.
Who in their right mind, at that moment, would be looking for the living? They were looking for the dead! Obviously!
Jesus was gone! The revolution was over, the promise came to naught, their hopes had come crashing down in flames and they were merely coming to show their respect, and to care for the body of the one they had loved and lost. Nobody around here was looking for the living.
They came for the one dead guy, buried here where the dead belong with all the other dead. There is no reason in all the earth why anyone in their right mind would come here looking for the living.
They didn’t want resurrection. They didn’t even know to hope for it. They wanted comfort in the ritual. They wanted to grieve their loss and one day move on. They wanted to remember him as he was, as is only natural.
The question itself must have thrown them off kilter, because the question itself throws everything they had ever known about anything off kilter.
“He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."
(These snarky angels), Yeah, thanks, now I remember!
Wait, he meant that literally?
Now what? What if death isn’t what we thought it was?
What if life wasn’t what we thought it was?
What if everything is different than we thought it was?
But the angels’ question haunts me. Why do you look for the living among the dead?
And after turning it over and over this week, I finally realized why the question bothers me so much. It’s because, I think, even thought we know the story, we’re the same as the women.
We’re not looking for the living Jesus either, actually.
What in the world would we do with a living Jesus?
Or more to the point, what in the world would a living Jesus do with us?
Instead, we generally do the opposite, you and I. We look for the dead among the living. What would Jesus do? We ask ourselves.
Let’s try to be like him, follow his example.
Let’s learn his teachings and tell the stories about him in Sunday school, and on Easter we will all sit here and sing about how he died and rose again and everything is fixed now,
and then, we’ll go home and eat our ham and change out of our fancy clothes, and we’ll go back to real life, with real, living people, who are doing the best they can with what they’ve got, most of them, who are living and loving and hurting and falling and failing and getting back up and doing it all again in a world that sometimes seems to be falling apart at the seams, and when we’re paying attention we will try to be like Jesus out there among the living.
We’ll stand up for the things Jesus stood for, and we’ll try to be good people and we will strive to be holy, or work for justice, and we’ll go to church, now and then, at least, and we’ll pray for the sick, and we’ll wonder if, in all of this we are doing enough to honor the memory of Jesus, and we’ll feel guilty that we are not doing more.
So we’ll continue looking for the dead among the living, and then, if we’re lucky, we’ll get old and die peacefully, and we’ll meet Jesus in the sky, when we too are dead like him.
But Jesus alive?
That’s just crazy.
That is so messy; so uncontrolled.
If that’s true, then God could be anywhere, doing anything.
I don’t like it.
I like my martyrs dead, so I can decide what I like and don’t like about them.
So I can decide what I believe and don’t believe about them.
So I can decide which teachings make sense for me to follow and which ones must have been said on an “off” day.
It’s much safer, and more sensible to look for, and speak for, and act for the dead among the living, and not have to risk running into the living God right here among the living.
And get this, when the women run back and tell the rest of the disciples the news that Jesus is alive, the people closest to them, the people closest to Jesus, the ones most likely to believe them about what they had just witnessed, the disciples themselves said, bullsh*t.
Bunk, malarkey, absolute rubbish.
That is a load of crap, they said. You are off your rocker.
The very first preachers to stand in the pulpit on Easter Sunday had their message called crazy made up garbage. Let’s face it, not a single person, in all four gospels, believes in the resurrection right away. Nobody.
In John’s telling Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener.
In Mark, they run away terrified and tell nobody, (an ending later scribes try to soften out and clean up because it doesn’t inspire much confidence).
On the road to Emmaus the disciples think Jesus is a stranger, and Thomas has to put his hands right into Jesus’ side, and not a single person says on their own, Check out that empty tomb! Oh yeah, he’s risen! He said that would happen!
But then, after Mary and the other Mary and Joanna and the other women deliver their message, two things happen.
First, Peter wont take their word for it, he has to go and see for himself. On his own, he goes to the tomb and comes back wondering.
And second, a shift occurs in the way the disciples are known in the text after that – in that one moment, of receiving the news that in fact Jesus is not dead, but living, they go from being called “the eleven and the rest”, which is to say, the followers of the dead guy, or rather, the ones who remain of the ones who followed that guy who isn’t here anymore, to “the apostles,” in the very next sentence, which means, “sent, those who are sent on a mission.” Their identity shifts to ones sent into the world by the living God.
And then they each meet the Living One for themselves.
And nobody has the same experience of the Risen Christ – they all have their own encounter, different for each one.
Jesus tenderly calls Mary by name, and he breaks bread once again in the presence of some of the apostles, and he teaches two others along the road to Emmaus, and stretches out his hand to Thomas and invites him to touch his wounds, and calls out from the shore to Peter and the others in the boat to cast their nets to the other side and lets the sopping wet Peter who swims ashore in his heavy coat tell Jesus he loves him and answers, “then, Peter, feed my sheep.”
And then, for each of them, the resurrection itself is just part of the story of the living God who meets us and loves us, who joins us in this life completely, and is right now as we sit here constantly and everywhere about the business of loving and saving the world.
So who cares if you believe he is risen? – nobody does at first!
And when they finally do believe, they never say “Jesus has risen.” like some fact they’ve chosen to accept.
No, it becomes a confession, “I have seen the Lord.”
They say “My lord and my God!”
They say,”Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he spoke?”
They say, “Teacher, you know that I love you!”
They are met by the living One, the Resurrection and the Life who knows them, who calls them by name, and sets them free, and sends them out into the world to love and serve the world that God loves and is saving.
And so the story of it all goes this way:
God is so passionately, relentlessly for us, and seeks to be so very with us that the final barrier that separates us all from those we love, death itself, would not, could not, separate God from us. God would join us completely, and live among us, and take on all the hatred and division and brokenness and evil that the world has to dish up, and absorb into Godself everything that divides us from love, everything that keeps us from life and steals our hope, and carry it into the very heart of God.
God would die to be with us, and by rising from the dead the Living One meets us in the world, infusing the world with hope, claiming the world for love, inviting us to notice, inviting us to join in, sending us out again and again to love one another, until the day when all will be redeemed and made whole, and death itself will be no more.
Wherever people are broken and suffering, Jesus is there.
Wherever people offer forgiveness and reconciliation, Jesus is there.
Wherever there is love and hope, and people bearing each other’s burdens and sharing each other’s joy, Jesus is there.
Wherever two or three are gathered, in all their confusion and doubt and questions and disbelief, and longing, Jesus is there.
Wherever there is Life, shared, abundant and free, glimpses of the life eternal, there is your God.
And when you can look into the eyes of your neighbor and recognize your common humanity, loved by God, when you feel your heart burn within you at words you know to be true, when you feel set free from a burden, when you hear love call you by name, you have seen the Lord.
A Living Lord is a lot riskier than a dead martyr, and it makes you a lot more vulnerable. If you let him, Jesus will likely try to recruit you into his mission of love and redemption. He might try to convince you in all sorts of ordinary and extraordinary ways, that the whole world is in God’s care, and God is moving all over the place, and we get to witness it, and be part of what God is doing.
What would be like, I wonder, to be the people who are always looking for the Living One among the living?
Jesus is risen.
But don’t take my word for it.
Go into the world and see for yourself.