1On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The 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? (Read the whole passage)
Just a short while ago, we stood on the mountain. The mountain called Golgotha, with the cross looming high above us, and the crucified God hanging there. That Good Friday moment spoke loudly and clearly about us. About humanity, about our desire to be God in God’s place, to be the ones in control and in charge, because human beings threatened by God in flesh tried to put God to death.
But now, we are once again down into the valley, the valley of death. A literal grave stands before us with the women who have come to tend to the body of their beloved teacher and friend.
This is always an awkward place to begin the Easter celebration. The church is already decorated, breakfast has already been eaten, the songs of praise with Alleluias have already been sung. But the story takes just a few more words to unfold, a little bit more to get there.
And so every Easter, before we can truly announce the good news of the resurrection, we have to begin with the women on their way to a tomb. It is easy overlook and to see this moment as part of the celebration. But going to a cemetery is not the most festive of experiences, especially going to see the freshly covered over grave of a loved one. It is an all together different feeling than coming together to celebrate the resurrection.
And yet, this is always where Easter begins. Just as from from Ash Wednesday with crosses marked on our foreheads, to the Lenten wilderness, and from the Palm Procession one week ago, to the last Supper on Thursday, and mostly clearly from the cross on Good Friday… there is always the promise of Easter peeking through the horizon, calling to us.
And Easter too, never leaves Good Friday completely behind, the path that leads us to the empty tomb always comes from Golgotha and the cross.
And so with these women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, we begin on our way to the grave. When they get there, they do not find what they were expecting. They do not find the body of Jesus. Instead they find a stone rolled away, divine messengers in white and an empty tomb. Still Easter hasn’t fully landed for these women, they respond first in fear.
Then the Angel asks them this question,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Seeing resurrection does not come naturally to the women, nor to us. There is always a bunch of other stuff obscuring the view. Even as we just made our way through the story of Holy Week, and the central story of the Three days, Last Supper, Good Friday and Easter Vigil… even though it is preferable to set aside most things and focus on observing this most important time of the Christian calendar, the world kept churning onward.
Along side Holy Week were the end of hometown hockey team’s playoff run and reports about presidential misconduct, there were hate crimes carried out in our own city and even this morning the bombing of churches in Sri Lanka as the faithful worshipped, and of course the great fire that seemed to burn down much of the world famous Notre Dame cathedral in France.
The world reacted in shock to the burning of the 800 year old church. Crowds gathered to sing and pray in the streets of Paris, people lamented online watching the flames in real time. The initial reports were of the worst, that the whole cathedral would be destroyed.
Even during the the most important week of the Christian year, when we strive to most clearly tell the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, all the other things have a great capacity to obscure our vision. Even at Easter, we cannot not see beyond death.
Resurrection is hard for us see. We are so used to looking among the dead, that we don’t know what the living looks like. Even when resurrection stares us in the face, we cannot help but focus on the dead things. The stories that captivate our attention almost always the stories of the cross, of sin and death… The stories of resurrection, of new life in the most surprising of places almost don’t register at all.
Of course hockey teams will have another chance at things next year, and politicians will continue being politicians, and the community surrounding the victims of hate crime in our city have already begun to rally… and the news of Notre Dame’s total destruction were greatly exaggerated, even as over a billion dollars was donated towards its repair. The artwork, the relics, much of the stained glass and the great organ were all saved.
But the part that is hard for us to see, even during Holy Week, even when we know the end of this story, when we know what happens Easter morning, is that all of that other stuff isn’t the point. The rebuilding of an 800 year old church or putting the donated money to another use isn’t the point.
The point of the the church building in the first place is to enable Christ’s story being told. The point is the story, the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Despite our habit and the habit of the women to look for the living among the dead, the Angel reminds Mary, Joanna, and Mary of what Jesus had told them – that he would be raised from the dead.
The empty tomb isn’t just the absence of a body or empty space… it is the symbol of life, the sign that death is not the end, that the cross on the mountaintop isn’t where human sin wins by putting God to death.
The empty tomb is the birth place of resurrection.
The empty tomb is the making of space for New life to grow and take root.
The empty tomb is the re-membering of the community broken apart on Good Friday.
The women are re-membered, re-connected, re-made into New Creations once they finally see the implication of the empty tomb. It is only then that they run off to tell the new to the other disciples.
And then then story of death and resurrection that we have been telling this week becomes more than just something we are trying to fit in along side all the other things happening in the world.
Cross and Empty Tomb become the new frame of life.
Cross and Empty Tomb become qualifiers to all the other stuff.
Cross and Empty Tomb become the one story the holds all other stories together.
And the Christ who hung on the cross just a while ago, becomes the first born of a new humanity… of a new us.
And this Christ who took all our stories on the cross, all of our failings and frailties, our suffering and sin, our dying…
This Christ finally brings us into God’s story.
And God’s story, our new story, is resurrection. If all we can do is look for the living among the dead, God will come and show us new life from death… God will come to us from empty tombs, and Christ will call to us to to come out of our graves too.
So yes, it is always awkward to begin the story of Easter by making our way to a cemetery with death on our minds… but we cannot help ourselves from always looking towards the dead…
But the Good News is that Christ is always looking for us.
Always finding us, even among the dead.
And from among the dead, The Crucified, Risen and Living Christ brings us too, into the Resurrection and New Life.