‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’

By Deirdre Good

Luke 24:1-10

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. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

We have just taken part in a journey. One of the most extraordinary journeys ever.

We have walked together with a group of grief-stricken women toward the tomb of the one in whom they had found their greatest hope, the person to whom they had entrusted their lives.

For the last two days Jesus’ body had lain in this cave, robbed of its youthful, vigorous life by a horrible death, a death carried out by the state in its most brutal form of capital punishment.

We journey to make the final preparations for permanent burial.

We are bringing closure to lives spent with Jesus.

We go as most mourners do, with tears for ourselves as well as for the deceased.

We imaging ourselves embarking on a year of magical thinking including:

Grief, denial, anger over the life that had been stolen from us

and fearful of the lonely days and years that now lie ahead.

What began as a journey is one that many of us, in one form or another, have known all too well.

The steps we take toward that tomb are bathed in tears of our own bitter sorrows.

But then, suddenly, the story takes a radically new and different course.

It is at the tomb itself–at the place where we went to confront the reality of that death–that a whole new journey really begins. And when it does, the course of all life is re-directed, and the world itself is reborn.

To these women, caught up-as we often are-in a culture of death, the tomb looked like a place of solace, a focal point for their own bereavement and sense of loss. All four Gospels speak of the physical tomb of that Easter Day. All four Gospels portray it as a place of pilgrimage for Jesus’ disciples seeking solace and release. And all four Gospels record that it was empty. The burial shroud is all that remains, left lying there.

What the women find, instead, are what Luke identifies only as “two men.” Other accounts call them “angels.” They are messengers who have been sent, not to call them inside the tomb, but to send them out from it.

They do it by means of a question: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ they ask.

It is this question that turns our lives around. This question is the pivot of our search for Jesus. It’s the question that resonates through song and liturgy for 2000 years:

“Why have you come?”

“Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” says the gardener to Mary Magdalene.

“Whom seek ye in the sepulcher, O followers of Christ?”

People sought Jesus all his life for various reasons. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ mother queries her teenage son: “Your father and I have been anxiously seeking you” (2:48); crowds seek to touch him (6:19); Herod and Zacchaeus seek to see him (9:9; 19:3); Judas seeks an opportunity to betray him (22:6).

Responding to these searches, Jesus doesn’t say: “Here I am!” the object of your search.

No, Jesus always points the searcher away from himself to God, God’s realm, or something else.

To his mother he says: Why are you seeking me? Don’t you know that I must be about the things of my father?

To followers, he announces: The Son of Man comes to seek and save the lost (19:10).

“Seek and you will find,” says Jesus (11:9); but not “seek and you will find me.”

“Seek first the kingdom,” (12:31) he says to followers, and “whoever will seek to save their life will loose it and whoever will loose their life shall preserve it” (17:33). To Judas and those who arrest him he declares: “This is your hour and the power of darkness!”

How do we move from the search for Jesus to the search away from Jesus to the living? Luke points us out of the tomb, from the introspection of Lent and on into the journey through the world where we next encounter a stranger who turns out to be Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The focus isn’t on us-it’s on the journey, on the stranger transformed in –perhaps even by–our gaze.

Jesus leaves the tomb to assert and show the meaning of the new life not just for himself, but for all the world. The resurrection is, ultimately, not about what happened to Jesus. It is about what has, through him, now happened to us all. The resurrection is about us as community, us as family to each other and all our world. And it is about how that changes the entire way we look at and experience our lives today. Resurrected life is not life the way it has always been, worn down and weakened by the world’s struggles and challenges until it slips away through attrition and fatigue. Resurrected life is life as God intended it from the very beginning of creation, filled with the vibrancy and zest and promise of God’s love, shared with and through each other. It is following Jesus on a new road, living, growing, loving, and reaching out to others with Christ’s compassion, mercy, and grace. This is our new journey into the life of perfect witness and service. It is our affirmation of the true life we now find in him. Through that affirmation, we can feed the hungry in body, mind, and spirit; we can welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; comfort, strengthen, and heal the sick, raise up the despondent; and love the unlovable. In the Easter ministry and witness to which we have now been called, we can truly turn the crosses that assault and burden this world into life lived in light of the resurrection.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is On Not Being a Sausage.

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