Friday, April 5, 2013

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Sermon for Easter Sunday, preached three times on March31, 2013... in one form or another...

    The words we heard in the Gospel are both distant from us and as familiar to us as life itself.  Scripture tells us that they went to the tomb – they being Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Joanna, and some others.  They were on their way to the grave after a death filled with sorrow in the midst of a busy holiday.  We get it.  It's nothing new.  It happens to us, too.  Death comes at inopportune times when we cannot give grief its due.  Now they were at the grave to finish the job of burial and to cry out their grief.  We do it too.  When love is left with a broken heart and pieces to put back together, we try to look for ways to repair our sorrows and heal our wounds.
    Sometimes death finds us in denial.  Part of the reason we go to the funeral and the cemetery is to make death more real.  When we don't want to believe, the turned up sod and temporary marker forces us.  Life is gone.  Death is done.  The grave has won.  Before grief can heal, death must be real.   We might hope it was all a mistake but when you get to the cemetery, you realize it is real. We know it.  We have been there.  We have the scars.  We still carry the pain of the loss.
    So they came.  Mary Magdalene whom Jesus had cleaned up and give her back her life when all she had were dead ends... and the other Mary and Joanna and the others.  What were their stories?  We don't know.  But they all came to the grave wishing they did not have to be there, hoping it was not real, but expecting to find death.  Even their memories could not console them now.  No laughter or hope was left.  Death had taken everything from them.
    But when they went in, there was no body of Jesus.  Now even the body of Jesus was gone.  Only strangers left where the body should have been.  Now their grief was met by fear and confusion more scarey than death.  Where did they take Jesus’ body?
    Then comes the voice: "Why are you here?  Why do you look for the living among the dead?  Jesus lives.  Don't you remember?  He told you."  How could they remember?  All they could think about were the betrayal by a friend, the terrible but innocent sufferings, and the death, oh the death.  Who heard “... and the third day rise?"  That memory was like a ghost in their thoughts.  Not scarey but not real either.  They left with a story to tell.  They ran to the disciples but the disciples thought it idle speculation.  But not Peter.  Peter wanted to believe it. He needed to believe it.  So desperately that he ran to look for himself and see how death could become life.
    Today we are Mary of Magdala... and the other women... and the disciples . We come here because we have a past filled with disappointments, sorrows, pain, and dead ends.  We seek a future.  Jesus has promised us this future. We come as mortals facing our own death and as the sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers who have given up our parents and children to death.  We come seeking more than comfort.  We want life stronger than death.
    Today we come.  We wear the stink of death... we bear the sting of death... we are marked with sin... our eyes heavy with sorrow and swollen from the tears of grief. We come because we know sin is real.  We look into the mirror of our hearts and do not like what stares back at us.   Our disappointments have given way to despair, to cynicism, to skepticism, to bitterness... We know the death of the body is real.  But we also know the death that has killed our hope, killed our peace, and killed our joy.  You cannot wish this death away.  We know how hard our hearts have become and now we want to know if hope is real, if the promise of the empty tomb is strong enough to hang our hopes, our dreams, and our lives upon.   We want to know where tears of sorrow can be met with honest and real joy.
    Today we come.  A pat on the back will not due.  The promise of a next time will not suffice.  Staring into death, His voice speaks to us: "Why do you look for living among the dead?"  That is our problem.  They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  The truth is our lives are filled with the insanity of the ruts that send us down the same road of sorrow, of disappointment, and of bitterness.  Now our Lord challenges us to let go of the dead wounds and memories, of the disappointments and despair, of the sins and guilt.
    What may seem an idle tale or words that promise something too good to be true are real.  Christ is risen.  You too shall rise.  Easter beckons to us.  Hope slaps our disappointment in the face.  Don't be afraid.  Don't live as the dead among the living.  Don’t keep yourself distant from the present hope that God has given you.  He has proven His love on the cross and in the empty tomb He has proven His power.  You are not on your own nor are you your own.  You have been bought with a price.  You belong not to death but to life in Christ.  Sin, death, and the devil have all had their shot at you.  But Christ has won you.  Live not for yourself but for Him.
    Now Christ stands between you and death.  Death cannot claim you without going through Him.  He has already died and risen and death has no more power over Him... so it has no more power over you.  Your life is now hidden with Christ... your life in Christ...  How profound is this freedom! 
    The world really does not expect Christians to be perfect.  It knows better.  The world does not expect Christians to be holy or righteous.  But the world does expect from Christians and it has a right to expect from us that we are people of joy.  Easter is about the joy of sins forgiven, lives reborn, death overcome, and the blessed reunion in heaven.  What impact would it have on us and on our witness if we took this joy as seriously as we do disappointments, dead ends, broken promises, and death?  In Christ’s resurrection is confirmation of our redemption, the down payment of our own joyful resurrection, and the means to live this holy joy amid a world still broken.
    You may have come today like Mary bearing the burden of death... but Christ sends you home with His life in You.  This is not about trivialities like feelings or happiness.  It is about the dead being made alive, sins forgiven, and heaven prepared for you.  You may have come today like the Marys who came to Jesus' tomb.  Don't go home the same way.  Do not let your hearts be captive to death or surrender your joy to disappointment and pain.  The joy that endures is the fruit of Christ and His resurrection for you and in you.  Why do you seek the living among the dead?  Why indeed!  Don't surrender your life to despair.  Stop living in fear.  Christ is Risen!  He is risen, indeed!  The life you live is not yours; it is Christ living in you.  Forgiven, set free from death, live this Easter joy!  Amen!

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