Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Though this question from the Easter Gospel is directed to women who came to the tomb expecting a body when Jesus had told them of His resurrection, it is a powerful statement of the way sin has worked in our hearts and minds.

It is not just on Easter Sunday that we face this question.  Truly Christians are tempted to search for the living among the dead all the time.  We seek explanation and understanding of this life here in this fallen world and not from Him who comes down from above.  We value the observations and experience of this life over the One who comes as the Word through whom all things came to be and is now enfleshed from the Virgin Mary as God Emmanuel.  We know so well the old paths of sin that we instinctively follow these paths even though we know that they do not lead us to life or happiness but only to the dead end of death itself.  We hold on to our guilt until we make life a terrible misery and we hold on to what others have said and done against us as if vengeance were better than reconciliation and bitterness a better fruit than contentment.

Yes, we are always seeking the living among the dead.  We prefer to worship the god of our imagination instead of the God of revelation, a god who mirrors our own wants, values, and image instead of the God who is wholly other and yet becomes like us except in sin to redeem us captive to sin and its death.  We prefer the happy songs of a shallow pleasure instead of the great song that give melody to the mystery of this Triune God who acts for us and our salvation.  We prefer to eat on the food that cannot satisfy instead of the bread that is His body, that feeds us til we want no more.  We prefer to drink in that which offers us a sweet taste that masks death instead of the strong taste of life and forgiveness that comes to us in the cup of His blood.  We exchange our baptismal identity that marks us for eternity for the secular, sexual, sinful identity that, at best, can offer us only a moment.

One of the great dangers before us is that we think the grave is the only place of death.  In truth our world is filled with the stench of death and we have grown so accustomed to breathing in its poisoned air that we do not notice its foul odor any longer.  It is this death that Christ has come to set us free as much as a death that comes at the end of this life.  He has come to expose all the places of death that tempt us and bring us only trouble.  He has come to enlighten us with His Spirit and the Spirit of His resurrection so that we might be drawn from this darkness into His light, where forgiveness and life are exchanged for the illusions of these a world captive to sin and death offers. 

Just as the women faced the shock of expecting one thing and finding the surprise of grace, so do we face this shock over and over again as our Risen Lord opens our eyes in the Breaking of the Bread to see what this life is and what it is not, and to impart to us the blessings of His life lived for us even to death and risen to set us free from death.  But our tragedy is that we are not shocked.  We have grown dull to emptiness of any reality apart from Christ and dull to the new reality which Christ alone offers us.  We walk into the tombs of death and look around and wonder what is the big deal over a little self-indulgence.  Sometimes we choose to stay in the places of death and we shrug our shoulders all the while insisting that we are only visiting and will not remain -- as if evil were not so bad if taken in small doses.

What troubles me about me and what troubles me about all of who bear the name of Christ by baptism, is that we are not shocked enough by sin's darkness and death's terror and therefore we are not shocked with delight at the surprise of life which Christ so freely offers to us.  Easter has become a bump in the road instead of a fork that leads us to a different viewpoint of this life and a radical perception of how death has changed.

So I pray for you what I pray for me... that Easter's news still shock us, surprise us, and compel us.  I pray that it may be so jarring to the old routine of perceiving and living my (and your) life that we will not quickly or willingly exchange its gift for death or its freedom for sin.

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