The Readings (New Revised Standard Version) and Psalm (ELW) for the Day:
Psalm 118:1B2, 14B24
1 Corinthians 15:19B26
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There once was a man who was walking through downtown Chicago as the sun was going down. Already it was dark in the cavernous streets of the “Windy City.” As he passed by one of the famous bars on State Street, he saw a man desperately searching for something underneath the glow of the street lamp.
“Did you lose something, my friend?” asked the man.
“Yes, indeed. I’ve lost my keys,” replied the man, crawling along on all fours.
“Did you hear them drop?” ask the man.
“No, I didn’t,” he responded.
The night grew darker.
“Were you standing here long?”
“No,” said the man. “I was in the parking lot.”
“So why are you looking here?” he queried.
“Well, obviously the light is much better here.”
Brothers and sisters, it was the women who went to the tomb of Jesus in order to face squarely the reality of death by bringing fragrant spices for his body. They looked for Jesus where they expected dead people to be, in the cemetery.
When they entered they were overwhelmed by the numinous brilliance of two figures. The women did what we humans do when confronted with the terrifying presence of the Holy. They bow their heads trembling as they hear the question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5b). It is not because the light is better there. But it is because that is where one is most likely to find the dead. But the two figures announce that Jesus is not dead, but has risen.
This announcement makes no sense to the women. They are perplexed. (We are perplexed!) The two figures remind them of Jesus predictions that his life and ministry would pit him against the powers of this world. Those powers are represented at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, where we are introduced to the kingdom of Herod of Judea in Chapter One, to Caesar Augustus in Chapter Two, and to Emperor Tiberius and his gubernatorial representative in Judea, Pontius Pilate. And wrapped up with them are the high priests in Jerusalem, Annas and Caiphas.
Jesus comes into this world destined to take on the rulers of this world. Under their domination the world has fallen under the power of death. From Caesar to Pontius Pilate and to Annas and Caiphas, it is death all the way down. According to Mary’s song, this world of death is to be overturned by life. She sings about the child soon to be born.
[God] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)
As the prophecy of Simeon made clear,
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34b-35a)
According to Luke anyone looking for life will have a difficult time finding it in this culture of death. Luke shows us how the world is searching for life exactly where the world thinks the light is shining: in the glitter of empire, power, force, and domination. Luke tells us about the prodigal son who squanders his father’s wealth on the high life in a foreign land but nearly dies of hunger. Luke tells us of the rich man who can only think about building bigger barns. And Luke tells us of the rich man who has all he desires to eat but cannot share with poor man Lazarus. The rich man ends up in Hades while Lazarus ends up in paradise with Abraham.
Everything we learn about Jesus from Luke confirms that Jesus’ message is a revolutionary word that pits the kingdom of God against the kingdoms of this world. Jesus is taking on Caesar. Jesus is taking on Pontius Pilate. He is taking on Herod. He is challenging the national religion, the temple and its authorities. One would think Jesus has a death wish, but we hear in his prophecies an absolute trust in the God that rather than validating the powerful is willing to fall victim to their deadly power in order to expose them for who they are—agents of death.
31 Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” 34 But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34; Cf. 9:22)
No, the disciples suffered under the fantasy of empire, power and domination. Even before Jesus’ death Luke tells us that the disciples were more concerned about who was the greatest in the kingdom of God than they were with the teachings of Jesus.
But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. But I am among you as one who serves. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:25-26, 27c-30)
Dear brothers and sisters, the question for us today is, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) In baptism we too are often found looking for life in the wrong places. We strive to be morally correct, to be powerful, to dominate and control others, to be beautiful with Botox, to be richer than Midas, or to have more knowledge than our neighbor. All these things look bright and happy to our eyes. Our searching is in vain.
We do not want to go back to that place where we lost life, because that would mean death. Not the death promised by the powerful, the warmongers of this world, or those who would exploit their own mother to make a dime. No, it is the death of the faithful one, Jesus Christ, to whom we go and join ourselves to his death so that we might share in his life.
We human beings lost our lives when we submitted ourselves to the fear of death. We broke our relationship to God, the Lord and Giver of Life. And now only death can release us from our self-created persona. We should not fear searching for life where death threatens us, for it is there that we also hear the good news, “He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5) The place where we lost life is the place where we will find it again.
This is the meaning of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)
So the next time you are discovered searching for life where you did not lose it, I invite you to return to your baptism; and, if you have not been baptized, I invite you to come to the living waters. There in these waters your old self will be drowned so that the renewed person may rise in order to dine with your risen Lord at his table of grace.