[Texts: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26; Luke 24:1-12]
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The resurrection story is one of the few stories that’s found in all four Gospels– Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Of course, since these accounts were written at different times in history by different people or groups of people who had access to different source materials, they all tell the story a bit differently. Just to give you three examples of the differences you’ll see if you look closely at the four accounts:
- When did the story take place? John says it was still dark, but Mark says “just after sunrise”. Luke and Matthew aren’t specific about whether the sun has actually come up or not.
- Who came to the tomb first? The only person named in all four Gospels is St. Mary Magdalene– other than that, the four accounts differ greatly.
- Who greets them at the tomb? John says no one, Luke says two men in dazzling white robes, Mark says one young man in a white robe, and Matthew says it was an angel. (The Greek word Matthew uses can mean either “angel” or “messenger” but it’s usually translated as “angel” in this particular passage.)
Ask the average person to tell you the Easter story, and what you’re likely to hear is one story that draws bits and pieces from each narrative– a little of this, a little of that. The same goes for the Christmas story, although only two Gospels (Matthew and Luke) contain birth narratives, not all four. The creation story is another example–there are two creation narratives in Genesis that are quite different from each other, written at least a few hundred years apart. One is the six-day creation story and the other involves Adam, Eve, and a snake. Many Bible stories we think we know are actually two or three different versions of an event that we’ve conflated into one story without even realizing it.
(Trying to keep the details of all four Easter narratives straight can be difficult, but the upside is that being able to recount all of this totally useful information will make you lots of fun at parties.)
This year, our Easter story comes from the Gospel of St. Luke. Luke says that it was “early dawn”. The people who went to the tomb are: Mary Magdalene, another woman named Mary (likely Mary the mother of James, which would presumably make her the wife of a man named Alphaeus), a woman named Joanna, and some other women who aren’t named. When they got to the tomb, the stone was rolled away and they couldn’t find the body, which understandably confused them. Suddenly, standing beside them, they saw two men in robes that dazzled like lightning, which scared the bejeebus out of them. (That would freak me out, too.)
These two mysterious white-robed men then asked them a very interesting question: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”
Well, the obvious answer is that the women hadn’t come to the tomb looking for a living person. They were looking for someone who was dead– or so they thought. They were looking for a lifeless body. They weren’t looking for or expecting to encounter the living Jesus.
How often do we look for the living Jesus? How often do we truly seek to see the face of the living Christ? Too often, I think, we think of Jesus as being distant, far away, “up there” somewhere, away from everything we experience “down here”.
And yet, so often, when we do encounter the living Christ, we find him among the dead. We find him in people and situations that seem hopeless.
We find him in tragedy. We find him in disaster. We find him in loss, in despair, in grief.
We find a living Christ who suffers with us, bringing comfort and peace and hope when there seems to be none.
Despair, tragedy, hopelessness, sorrow, suffering– all of these are part of our experience as human beings, as they were part of Jesus’s experience as a human being. And, like we all will go down to the dust from which we came, Christ also experienced death.
And then, he rose from the dead. On that truth we stake our faith and our lives as Christians. And no, not symbolically or metaphorically or in spirit, despite what some modern theologians have recently decided. Christ rose from the dead, literally, bodily, physically.
So, why do we look for the living among the dead?
Why do we look for life when there only seems to be death?
Why do we look for hope where there seems to be no hope, for joy where there seems only to be sorrow, for light where there seems to be nothing but darkness? Why do we listen for God even when he seems to be silent? Why do we listen for the whispers of love even when hate and violence can be so loud?
Why do we await the coming of the dawn, even in the pitch-dark of dusk?
Why do we look for the living among the dead?
Because Christ, who hung on a cross and lay in a tomb, rose again on the third day, conquering the grave, harrowing Hell, and defeating death.
Because we, who share in his Passion, are also heirs of his resurrection, and of the promise that death will never have the final word, and that the God who makes all things new will make us new, even when that seems impossible.
Because, in the words of St. Augustine, we are the Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.
We look for– and find– the living among the dead because Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!