Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead? - A Homily for Easter, 2013

Homily for Easter, 2013
Sunday, March 31st, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 24: 1-12

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
-Luke 24:5

The women who faithfully remained with Jesus as he hung upon the cross, who were there when his body was laid in the tomb, were the first to come to that tomb on the early morning following their Sabbath observance.  Their spices were prepared, and they had come to anoint his body.  To their great surprise though, the stone that covered the tomb had been removed; and to their even greater surprise they encountered two men, garbed in dazzling apparel who addressed them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  What a strange question this was.  Their Lord was dead and they were here to carry out their appointed task and ministrations.  They were not seeking the living; they were indeed seeking the dead. 

But the men stirred their memories – the memory of something he had said early in his ministry in the Galilee, a memory that was clouded with the passage of time and the dreadful reality of his failed mission which ended on the cross.  The men asked the women to remember. Remember what he said to you.  Remember how he had told them that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.”  Had they forgotten this promise?  Or were they here, actually seeking the living, did they remember, and hope, deep within themselves in the sacred silence of their hearts that maybe, just maybe, he was yet alive? 

When asked to remember, remember they did.  They had not yet seen him, and yet the stirring of their memory stirred within them the belief that he had risen.  His words stirred within them and the seed faith sprung to life in their hearts.  He was not to be found amongst the tombs; he had burst the chains of death; he had sprung forth from the tomb, and although he and not yet appeared to them, they knew with confidence that he was alive.

With great excitement they returned to the apostles and told them all they had seen and all they had heard; and yet, the apostles believed them not.  The apostles who had heard the same words, who were now being asked to remember what Jesus had told them way back in their Galilean days might have remembered his words, but they could not believe what they were being told by the women.  They castigated them for spreading “old wives’ tales.”  They did not believe.

But Peter, the first to have denied his Lord; Peter, who had with deep shame wept over his denial; Peter the first among the apostles who had proved to be the weakest when put to the test; something stirred in Peter.  Perhaps he remembered the words. Perhaps deep within the silence of his own heart he hoped beyond hope that it might be true.  Perhaps, just perhaps, he might be given a second chance.  And so against what must have been his better judgement he rose and ran to the tomb.  And there, on the floor of the tomb he found only the linen cloths.  He had not yet seen Jesus, and yet, he was amazed and his unbelief became belief. 

The women sought the living amongst the dead.  Peter sought the living amongst the dead.  But the one who lives is not to be found amongst the dead.  They cannot believe that he is alive and so they must seek out the place of the dead and look for him. They had seen him die. They knew where he should have been, and yet, that is not where God left him. He did not suffer his holy one to see corruption.

Where do they find him?  As we shall learn as we continue to read St. Luke’s gospel in Eastertide, they meet him as they journey in loneliness, sadness and despair along the Emmaus road. They meet him when they open the Scriptures and break bread together.  They meet him in their gathering together and they meet him in their going out into the world.  They meet him when they forgive each other their wrongs, and they meet him when they witness to his resurrection.  This is all to say that they meet him, not at a tomb, not amongst the dead but amongst the living.

This is the very place we meet him today.  We meet him when we gather round this table and share in receiving his risen and glorified body by faith with thanksgiving. We meet him when we hear the words of the prophets and the apostles opened to us, proclaimed and expounded. We meet him when we forgive each other the wrongs we have done. We meet him when we wash each other’s feet.  We meet him when we go out into the world to serve him in the person of God’s most vulnerable children. We meet him not amongst the dead, but amongst the living.  Seek the Lord where he may be found.

But just as the Father did not leave Christ in hell, just as he did not let his holy one see corruption, neither will he leave us amongst the dead. He does not abandon us to the grave. He does not abandon us to our sinful self-destruction.  He does not leave us amongst the dead or in the tomb.  In the glorious resurrection of Christ we are swept up into the power of his resurrected life.  In the resurrection of Christ, Jesus’ hands reach out to us to pull us from the very depths of despair, loneliness, brokenness, and sin. When we find ourselves walking amongst the dead, he descends to the depths with us and rescues us, restores us, redeems us, that we too might not be found amongst the dead, but the living.  And so that is where we find him today, not amongst the dead, not in a tomb, but in our very midst, risen in body and risen in the communion we share in this age, and risen in the communion we shall know when the final trumpet sounds and we are all raised to that new and glorious perfection. 

Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?  We are afraid it is not true.  We are afraid that death will be the final story that is written for us. We are afraid that what has been proclaimed to us is a lie. But remember what he said.  Remember.  Remember that he said that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” The Eucharist we share is an act of that remembrance.  It is a remembrance that as the grave could not contain him, so it shall not contain us.  Our shared ministry is a remembrance that though the powers of death might seek to destroy us in this life, when we act together in ministry we find hope and strength, endurance and fortitude, love and mercy, because the risen Jesus is with us.  When we serve each other, Jesus is with us.  To remember what he said is not simply to recall it, but to live into it.  When the men at the tomb tell the women “he is not here,” they mean among the dead.  When we proclaim he is risen, we are saying “he is here,” amongst the living.  The tomb is but a sign, the communion we share is the reality of Jesus risen from the dead. 

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