Finding the Living Among the Dead

Easter Sunday Sunrise Mediation Based on Luke 24:1-12

Today we gather to celebrate that the old is gone; new life has come. On that first Easter morning, a group of women gathered because they thought the reverse was true: When Jesus began his ministry, they saw their world changed in ways they never thought possible. Jesus healed the sick. He gave sight to the blind. He looked upon the outcasts of society and told them they had worth. He talked of another world – the Kingdom of God, he called it – a world where there was hope, joy, and peace, where there was life – life to the full, he said.

But three days earlier, everything changed. Jesus was nailed to a cross, and it seemed all their dreams were nailed there right beside him. That new world of which Jesus spoke suddenly came to a screeching halt. Life must now return to normal, and death and graveyards were a part of that normal.

When there is a crisis or natural disaster, those first to respond on the scene come looking for signs of life. They turn over every stone in search of the living. But these first responders had no illusions of finding life among the stones, as evidenced by what they brought with them. You don’t bring spices to help expedite the body’s decay unless you expect to find…a body.

However, the body they found is not the one they expected. Jesus’ body is gone. In its place are two living bodies, two men who ask, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Then they jog their memory: Remember what he told you? How on the third day he would rise again?

I imagine in the hours leading up to and immediately following Jesus’ crucifixion there were whispers about Jesus’ promise to rise again. As time went by, those rumors faded away. But now with this sight – or lack thereof – of Jesus on his death bed, they remembered.

For Peter and the other disciples, the reports of the women also sounded like nothing more than a fairy tale – until Peter goes to the tomb himself, and he, too, finds it empty – and believes. They say seeing is believing. In this case, not seeing is believing.

In a similar way, a few hours later, according to the very next passage in Luke, two of the disciples were walking with Jesus. Luke says their eyes were kept from recognizing him. In most post-resurrection appearances, Jesus appears to people at first as a stranger. It’s a sign of mercy, in some ways. After all, if you or I were to see someone who once was in the grave, it might scare us to our grave. It’s a sign of hospitality, inviting us to recognize Jesus in the strangers we meet today. It’s also a sign of faith – because Jesus knows that faith is much more than what we can recognize with our eyes or touch with our hands.

Later still that day, when the two disciples invited Jesus to stay for supper, they recognized him when he took the bread, blessed it, and broke it. A familiar act to them and to us. And they remembered.

Memory is a powerful thing. Ever been to an Alzheimers or memory care unit for a worship service or hymn sing or Christmas caroling? Even patients who can’t speak a word will spontaneously begin to sing, for long after the mind is gone, the memory remains lodged in the heart.

I think that’s why the word “remember” is one of the most frequent and most important words in Scripture – so that, when we think there’s no sign of life in the world or in our own lives, our memories can bring us back to the truth: “Remember the works of the Lord. Remember you once were strangers. Remember God brought you out of slavery. Remember God’s everlasting covenant with you. Remember…I am with you always.”

That’s also why we gather this morning – to remember this event of long ago. We don’t gather as if at a memorial service to honor the dead. We gather to declare that, where once tombs were a sign of death, they are now a sign and promise of life. Because this tomb is empty, every tomb can now be empty. That Kingdom of which Jesus spoke? It’s not some misguided hope or distant fantasyland that died with Jesus. It’s alive and well, just as Jesus is.

The good news of Easter is that Jesus is on the loose. And so we also are called to be on the loose – by going from this empty tomb to another tomb.

There are plenty of people in this world, in our city, in our neighborhoods – people who have given up hope, who think the grave is the end, that the world is a lifeless place. But you and I live by a different story: Because these women could not find the living among the dead, we can go find the living among the dead. Because Jesus conquered the grave, we can see life where others see death. By pointing to hope where there is despair. By choosing love where there is hate. By seeing value in people whom the world tosses aside. By offering grace when it is least expected. By declaring that that distant Kingdom of God…maybe isn’t so distant after all. We know it. We remember it – because we’ve glimpsed it today. Thanks be to God.

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