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“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

This is the Lord’s doing, * and it is marvelous in our eyes.

On this day the Lord has acted; * we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118: 23-24)

Welcome to all who enter this day into this celebration of life. Today we celebrate God’s unique action in raising Jesus from death and setting this one who was crucified to be the source and center of an all-embracing reconciliation in the world. Though Jesus, as he walked among us, offered a life filled with love, healing, and hope to all, he was arrested as a common criminal, was put on trial, tortured and hung on a cross by the religious and civil authorities of his day. Yet the good news we celebrate at Easter is that death did not have the last word. That life and love prevailed over the violence he suffered. That the tomb is empty and God’s saving act has broken the vicious cycles of death and destruction in which the world finds itself.

In our Gospel reading today from Luke we hear the story of the women who have gone to the place where Jesus’ shattered body was laid. They come bringing spices and fragrant ointments to perform one final act of devotion—to prepare his body for burial. They come expecting death. And yet when they arrive the stone has been rolled away from the opening to the tomb and Jesus’ body is no longer inside. Death has not contained him!

Then two strangers in dazzling clothes appear and ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here, but has risen.” In both terror and amazement, the women race to tell the others what they have experienced. But the other disciples, hiding out of fear, are unable to shake death’s grip on their hearts. They dismiss the women’s stories as merely an “idle tale.”

This story of the resurrection of Jesus is a mystery that eludes all our efforts at description and reasoning. If those disciples who daily walked with Jesus were unable to hear his message and believe that indeed life had somehow won out over death, what about us? How do we some 2000+ years away understand this event? But much more importantly, what does it mean for the way we live our lives in the presence of God’s resurrection. How are we changed beyond a simple remembrance of a historical event?

We stand at a time in our history that can be described most efficiently and eloquently by Charles Dickens, who in the opening to his classic book A Tale of Two Cities, described the state of England and France in 1775, in his words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”[1] This pretty much sums up the state of our country and our world today. We live in a time of unimaginable wealth and excruciating poverty. We live in a time where modern technology allows some of us to live long and healthy lives, secure, free from worry as to where we will find nutritious food or a comfortable place to live And yet others face constant hunger, daily unspeakable violence, and are unable to find a safe place to shelter themselves or their families from the vagaries of life.

Anger and fear are everywhere. With the unspeakable violence that daily visits our world, it is not difficult to summon these emotions. And into this unrest, rides some who, rather than working to find solutions to suffering, have seized upon the opportunity to advance their own power by inciting the rise of hatred, exclusion, and violence. It is a growing cycle of fury, not limited to our country alone, that seeks to demand a way of life for some by denying access and dignity to others. And the tragedy is that it too often pits those people who live at the margins of our world against each other. The fear of “the other”—whether it be people of color, immigrants and refugees, those who are poor, people with disabilities, people of other faith, political, or cultural traditions—is creating a place of death that only leads to an accelerated cycle of hatred and fear and violence that fuels more death. People see the world changing and in response some have been persuaded that the best course of action is to enter the tomb, pull the heavy rock in place, and hunker down.

Recently the Bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered at Camp Allen in Texas. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry along with Bishop Doug Fisher from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and other Bishops issued a Word to the Church in which they called us to reject “the idolatrous notion” that safety and security can be obtained “by sacrificing the hopes of others”. Further they said, “In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by violent forces released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society.”[2] The Bishops call us to prayer for our country that a spirit of reconciliation, that life and love will prevail.

How do we as followers of the risen Christ witness to life in this time? What can this story of Easter teach us?

As people of the resurrected God, we are called out of the tomb. We have been set free from death in all its forms—fear, anger, violence, despair. As people of the resurrected God, we are called to seek life. And we are called to share this life as Jesus did with every neighbor wherever they may be found.

“Why do we look for the living among the dead?” In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate can never drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Hate never leads to love and health. Hate only leads to more hate. Violence will never bring about peace or security. Violence only leads to more violence. Fear will never set our hearts at rest or open us to hope. Fear only leads to more fear. The only way to end this cycle of death is to turn toward life. “Why do we seek the living among the dead?”

Easter invites us to imagine and embrace God’s new creation where we are lead from being afraid to turning to the one who has overcome our greatest fear—the fear of death. God’s new creation invites us to turn away from hatred and scorn of our brothers and sisters to instead stand alongside and comfort those who suffer. Easter invites us to reject violence by turning to the one whose action on the cross, stopped violence by absorbing its destructiveness rather than returning it.

The tomb can seem to be a safe place. High walls, closed doors, no one to challenge your old ways. But the tomb is only for those who have no life in them. And after Jesus’ resurrection, no tomb is safe.. Death surely shudders because life is more nimble, more alive, more disruptive than death can contain. Life reigns. Nothing can ever be the same.

Easter tells us that hope lives, mercy lives, humanity lives, God is not done with any of us. We are people of the resurrection and so we are to seek the living Christ where he is to be found—bringing good news to the poor, seeking release for those held captive, offering healing for those who suffer, and life to those who struggle in darkness. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. As astounding and incomprehensible as it is, it calls us to the place where God acting at the boundary we call death, opens the way for us to new life

Easter did not just happen one morning 2,000 years ago and it cannot be contained in just one Sunday a year. Then as now, there will be those who use their power to entomb us in despair, but God continues to say yes to life. God is about creating new heavens and a new earth.

Through Easter we are called to life and to love and to hope. We are not to seek the living among the dead. May we who follow Jesus accept this joyous, upending, and defiant call to seek life and to fiercely proclaim with love and with our lives that Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!!

 

[1] Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities.

[2] A Word to the Church, Holy Week 2016. House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.

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