Sunday, April 8, 2007

Dead Among the Living?

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Luke 24: 1-5

Easter has always seemed to me to be the Christian High Holy Day. In a culture determined to leave no stone unsold, Easter has stubbornly resisted the commercial chains that bind Yuletide like Marley’s ghost. Bunnies, chocolate, a fancy hat here and there – pretty tame stuff when compared to Halloween, let alone Christmas.

So I have always felt Easter is a day to be taken seriously. Pope Gregory may have balanced time on the fulcrum of the nativity, but in my mind, history didn’t really turn the corner until the morning Luke describes in his gospel.

Everybody knows the story. It’s early morning. The handful of Jesus’ disciples who cannot hide their identities are hiding their faces. A small party of women makes its way to the Garden to complete Jesus’ burial preparations after his hasty entombment before the Sabbath. The last thing anyone expects is to find the door open and the chamber empty.

Each gospel tells the next part in a little different way. An angel appears. A mysterious gardener speaks. For Luke, it is this pair of men in dazzling clothes. Different renderings, but one common thread – no one on that Sunday morning, not even the people who loved him best, expected to find Jesus anywhere other than in that stone hole in the earth. No one knew Jesus better than they. These men and women had walked with Jesus, fished with him, eaten with him, and slept by his side under the desert stars. They accompanied his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his agonized last steps to Golgotha.

If anyone on earth could make such a claim, these people were the experts. They knew what Jesus was all about and they knew exactly where to find him.

And the experts were wrong.

Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

A person would have to be crazy to do such a thing. Yet that is just what we do when we seek Christ. We read books. We sing songs. We go to lectures and sermons where experts quote other experts. We pray old prayers. We kneel in old buildings. We run through the maze of 2000 years of traditions, rolling away stones, looking for the secret place where the body of Christ is hidden.

He is not here, but has risen.

In John’s Easter story, Jesus warns Mary, “Do not hold on to me,” yet the church clings to the Jesus we think we know, even as the living Christ rolls away the stone door of our imagination and walks out to do his work in the world. We are like a child who runs with a fist full of sugar, only to find his palm sticky and empty when he finally opens it again.

We seek the living Jesus among the dead when we cling to our opinions as if they were God's truth.

We seek the living among the dead when church is the only place where we “feel close to God.”

We seek the living among the dead when we pass up the chance to visit a sick friend so we can rush home to pray for her.

The living Christ will not stay in the cool white tomb where we can roll away the stone when we want a little visit with Jesus. He is not there.

Christ is alive and well. He is weeping with the wife who can’t stop drinking and the husband who can’t stop cheating. He starves with the refugee and shivers with the homeless. He wakes sweating in fear next to the prisoner on death row. He bends his knee to scrub public bathrooms. He knocks at my door, or comes to me on the street, begging for the money that I refuse because I know it will only go to buy more beer. He lives with the sex offender down the street who dares not answer his door for fear of being evicted again. He stays awake with the child who dreads the creaking of floorboards and footsteps in the night. Jesus is comforting the dying. He is strengthening the weary. He is giving hope to the hopeless in every home, workplace, village, and web site on earth.

And yet I go looking for him in tradition and nostalgia.

He is not here, but has risen.

There is a lot to be said for Easter Tradition. Grandma in her lavender dress. Grampa getting up early to shine his church shoes. Mom helping us to dye eggs. Dad teaching me to tie my tie. But our memories – good or bad – are not alive. They are the dead skin life sheds like a snake in the sun. They give us comfort by reminding us of what once was, but they cannot replace the challenge of living with what is. Too often we look at life like those confused women staring dumbly into an empty tomb, searching for the living God who has better things to do than stay dead.

The long darkness of Lent is past. The light of the Easter Season is upon us. God forbid we should lose the one by clinging to the other. God grant us the courage to open our hands to share the sweetness of the love we have received so freely.

God bless the church and all creation on this Holy Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord.


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