“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” There's a good question.
On its face, the question the angels ask of the women at the tomb seems fairly rhetorical. Jesus is alive, just like he said. This is a grave. Why would someone alive stay here? As we say in America, “duh!”
But there is more to this question than meets the eye. It's a helpful question for framing the meaning of Easter. Christ is ineed risen from the dead. The grave is empty. Thanks be to God, Alleluia! But what does this mean for you and me? How does his resurrection affect us? And what promise does it hold even for our own future? In other words, why is Easter such a big deal?
Who are the living, and who are the dead? We usually think of life and death in biological terms. Life is breathing and having a pulse. Eating, converting energy, reproducing. And death is the opposite of that, and the onset of decay. Death is the deterioration of the body, non-functioning. It's the end.
But in spiritual terms, and perhaps this is even more important, what is life, and what is death? The Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death. That in the very day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, death came into the world. Indeed, God said, “in the day you eat of it you shall die”. And yet it seems, Adam lived for many years after his fall into sin. So was God lying about death? Or are we missing something with such a narrow understanding as the biological one?
Death is separation from life. And life is found only in the Lord. The Holy Spirit, the Lord of life. The Father, the creator of all things, all life. And Jesus Christ – the resurrection and the Life. Life and death, you see, are far more than sitting up and taking nourishment, or pushing up daisies in the ground. Life and death are spiritual categories, spiritual realities, that our eyes may not always see so clearly. Therefore we must rely on the eyes and ears of faith. We must bend our understanding of life and death to the one that God presents in his Holy Word.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The Living One, if there ever was life, is Jesus Christ himself. And why would he be among the dead? But he was – he was born into this dying world of sin. He took on human flesh, only to take it to the cross, and to death. He gave himself to death, no one took his life from him. And in a great mystery beyond all understanding, on a Friday afternoon outside of Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, the source of all life met death.
And there, death was defeated. It could not contain him. Sin and the devil and death itself were defeated in the cross of Christ. And in his resurrection from Death Jesus proves it.
Jesus had a lot to say about life and death. Like, “I am the way, the truth and the life” and “If anyone believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live. And he who lives and believes in me will never die.” and “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
You see, Jesus' resurrection is far more than a happy ending. It's more than just a feel-good conclusion or the moral to a story. He really lives, and his resurrection means something – for us!
We, by our sins, are dead. We are born dead, spiritually. We are dead men walking. We are separated from God, and separated from life. Not only destined for physical death, but eternal death. And already, in this life, subject to the effects of death – suffering, disease, decay.
But in our baptism, we are buried with Christ, so that just as Christ is raised from the dead, so do we arise anew from those waters. Now, here, even before our physical death, we are spiritually alive in Christ, by Christ, and connected to the Father in bonds of love that even death cannot separate. So even though we will die, we will live. And even when we die, we don't, really. And though our body dies, like Christ, we will rise in these same bodies, to live forever. All of this is wrapped up in Easter.
Corinthians calls Christ the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep. But he is not the only or the last to rise. In Jesus' resurrection, we see our resurrection. In Jesus' victory over death, we see our own victory. In Jesus, the living one no longer among the dead – we see our own future. Though we die, yet shall we live!
It is hard to overstate the importance of this day. Paul says if Christ didn't rise from the dead, then we are the most pitiful of all men – that everything we believe is in vain. But if Jesus really did rise, just like he said, and if he really is alive, that means everything!
It means we can trust every other word he says. It means when he says your sins are forgiven, they truly are! It means when he promises his body and blood to you here – you can trust it fully. It means when he says you are clean, you are.
Why do you seek the living among the dead? We don't. We seek him where he promises to be. In his word. In baptism. And at his altar, in his meal. And there, he who is living, gives us his life. Life that he gave at the cross. But life that death could not contain. Life that he has forever, and shares with us forever.
A Blessed Easter to you, in the One who is alive, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.