Monday, 05 April 2010 19:12

April 4, 2010 Easter Sermon

“Why Seek the Living Amongst the Dead?”
Luke 24:1-12
Easter Sunday
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 4, 2010
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

“Why Do You Seek the Living Amongst the Dead?”  That’s the familiar question asked by the angel on Easter morning.  It’s a statement of physical reality.  Jesus’ body is not here.  See, the burial shroud is there, but Jesus is not.  He’s alive once again, just as he predicted.  Go and tell the disciples and the whole world.

It’s also a spiritual question.  Why do you focus on death, especially when there is life to be lived?  Why do you look back when you could be looking forward?  Why do you wallow in self-pity when the sun is shining and the buds are blooming and the people are gathered and the water flows and hope abounds?

Why seek the living amongst the dead?  The question bears attention.  But it also raises a couple of other questions.  Do we seek the living?  And if so, how do we seek the living?

Mary and the other women went to the tomb to give devotion to the body of Jesus.  They wanted to weep and wail and reflect on his life.  They were good and faithful people.  Better to pay your respects than be in hiding like the rest of the disciples.  Jesus was crucified, an indignity and a brutal death designed by the Roman Empire to squelch any kind of hope.  People who were crucified were quickly forgotten—for to even mention their name might bring the same fate upon you.  It’s such a shame-inducing death.  Their bodies often rotted on the trees.  But the women refused to forget.  They saw to it that his body was taken down the very same day that he died.  They gave him a proper burial.  And now that the Jewish Sabbath was over, they could pay his dead body the proper respect.


I remember meeting a widow in Hartford, Connecticut.  She was the next-door neighbor of a parishioner.  And every day, rain or shine, she would go to the cemetery to sit near her husband’s grave.  She did this every day for years until she eventually joined him for eternity.   She did not forget her beloved husband.  And there she stayed, eschewing any other opportunity of life and relationship.

We all have this tendency.  Some tragedy has happened in most of our lives.  And we wallow in that sorrow and despair.  It’s the right thing to do.  It helps us to make sense of our past.  But it is really only about the past.  At some point, we need to find a way to make the transition to a future direction.  The angel asks, “why do you seek the living amongst the dead?”  
The reality is that we too often don’t seek the living. We remember the dead.  We give devotion.  We honor the dead.  And yet, death and sorrow can keep us stuck in the past.  The angel invites us to seek the living.  We need to seek the living.  We need to take steps in the direction of life.

Rita Brock writes that

“The gospels constructed an innovative strategy to resist crucifixion. They rejected the terror that crucifixion instilled and told the story another way, against the grain of historical fact and with the grain of love and resistance. They reported that Jesus had no broken bones and died quickly. His friends removed him intact the day he died and buried him properly. They found him again in the garden, along the shore, breaking bread, and telling them to carry on his ministry. They experienced him as many people and cultures experience those they love who have died, as present still in visions, dreams, and rituals. These loving details said that Rome was impotent to erase Jesus from memory, to deny his humanity, or to end his work for justice, healing, and peace.
Early Christians told the story of Jesus' death as lamentation and remembrance that resisted Rome. The gospel writers used lamentation from the Psalms to link his death to earlier imperial carnage visited upon his people...In using sacred literature to expose what torture did to him and to his people, the gospel writers brought testimony before a higher court of appeals than Pilate or his ilk and wove Jesus into a history of violence against all advocates for justice. Their telling affirmed divine presence in human flesh, in Jesus who showed them how to live, before he died, and revealed love stronger than terror, torture, or death. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul asserted that Jesus died once to defeat the powers of death, which held no power over him, but Christians worshiped the risen Christ.” (from this week’s Huffington Post and her book Saving Paradise)

Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?

This entire year, we have had as our worship theme “Rivers of Paradise”.  We have seen it as our work to celebrate the living and reveal the layers of blessings God envisions for us.  We have seen this as the core of the church’s mission.  We have wondered and worked for a vision that focuses on life and establishes or recognizes paradise here on this earth.  It’s as close as the rivers that surround us.  It’s as close as our community gathered.  It’s enhanced by new believers making that public profession of faith.  It’s as intimate as the very breath we take.

Rather than having a crucified Jesus on a cross as our symbol, we have instead these colors, this garden resembling Eden.  We have the triumph over the ways of death and destruction.  And we believe with Jesus that paradise is God’s goal for this world and that it doesn’t simply exist in the next world.

Rita Brock says that “Jesus lived so that all creation might live.”

Do we seek the living?

Where do we seek the living?

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We lost a great man that day in Memphis.  But our country and the people inspired by him have not simply sat at his grave and wept.  At some point we continued in his work—inspired by his words and his hopeful challenge.  Events of the past several weeks have proven that we are still not free from racism in this country nor are we embracing the beloved community that he invoked.  But we remember and we put our feet to the ground and we move forward, asking the hard questions, continuing the struggle.  Seeking out hope and resurrection from the powers of tyranny that says that might makes right and that only white men have real power.

The angels are saying, “get up, dust yourselves off.  Move from the grave and back into the streets. And lo I will be with you even unto the end of time.  Seek the living, not the dead.” And when you do that, not only will we witness to Jesus’ resurrection, but our own, too.

Seek the living.

For as Christ triumphed over the grave, so we can triumph over despair and cynicism.
I have had a great couple of months walking Rebecca through her baptism classes and lessons.  She told me that she originally wanted to be baptized because it looked like fun and because her big sister did it a few years ago.

But as we talked, she started looking at her life differently.  She started talking about how she wanted to be different.  She started talking about how she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to be perfect afterwards.  I assured her it wasn’t about that.  It was about throwing yourself into the arms of a loving God and trusting God to breathe life and hope into you.  It’s about embracing the grace of God with abandon.  But it’s not only about that.  It’s also about making the lives of others better because your life has been transformed.  That’s how Christ lives in you.

And as I saw her take those steps, I can’t help but think about how we are called to do that, too.  We are called to seek out the living.  We’re called to be the living.  Don’t look for life around the dead bodies of the world.  Pay attention to pain and sorrow, but don’t be defined by it.  Seek the living. Seek the living.  Seek the living.

As the winter changes to spring, ‘tis the season to turn our minds and hearts from the things that are dead to the things that are living. We have given attention to persecution and crucifixion all during the Lenten season.  It’s now time to focus on the possibilities, on the evidence of life, of hope.  May we do so in a celebrative mood that is not manufactured by too many jelly beans, but by the realization that death and violence are not the final word in God’s economy.

The word is life.  And it flows as close as these rivers of mercy, of hope, of love, of renewal, of baptism, of creation.  And it flows to each of us.

"Jesus lived so that all creation might live."

Don’t seek the living amongst the dead.

Find ways to embrace life.

Find ways to celebrate life.

Do it around tables.

Do it in a garden.

Celebrate life by taking to the streets.

Celebrate life by seeing the possibilities out there.

Celebrate life by remembering that we are not alone.

Not only is God here, forever rising on Easter morning, but God’s people are here, too. Showing by our lives and presence that the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof.  The people of God rise up just as they rose up 2000 years ago by saying that the ways of crucifixion and death are not the last words.  God’s unending love and God’s continuing plan of justice and inclusion and peace and hope and mercy and compassion is the point of our existence.

Why do we seek the living amongst the dead?  We do because it’s what the world tells us.  We actually find the dead among the dead.

But we seek the living among the living.

We connect with one another and remember the opportunity that God has given to us.  We remember that we too were once dripping wet, and audacious enough to believe.

Seek the living amongst the living.  When we do, then the resurrection continues, hope is restored, and we join those early disciples in re-imagining our very lives.  And we connect with a great Power from God that is mightier than everything.  It’s more powerful than violence and death.  And it empowers us to celebrate life with abundance and imagine a new world, maybe even imagining a river of paradise flowing out of our lives and connecting this hurt and broken world.

Thanks be to God for empty burial shrouds.

Thanks be to God for dripping wet disciples poised to walk in newness of life.

Thanks be to God for rivers of paradise watering the gardens of our world.

Thanks be to God for the resurrected hope in each of us that compels us with the power of God to seek the living and join the living Christ in embracing a new world order.  When we do this, then we body the Easter phrase, Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.