Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?
By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
The question asked in the gospel lesson today can be haunting: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Even in the context of Luke’s Easter story, it’s disturbing. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee went to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body, as was the Jewish custom. When they got there, they found that the stone had been rolled away. Naturally, they went inside. That’s why they’d come. Suddenly, two angels appeared and asked,
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He isn’t here, but is risen.” (Luke 24:5-9)
Think about it: Where else would they have gone, except to the tomb? They weren’t seeking the living; they were seeking a corpse. They hadn’t come to say hello; they came to make sure Jesus got a proper burial.
In this sense, the question isn’t properly addressed to them, but to us: Why do we seek the living among the dead? That’s what I’d like for us to think about in the sermon this morning – first, that that Jesus is the Lord of life and the hope of life eternal. He told his disciples,
• “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”(John 14:6)
• “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
• “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
That being said, why do we look for Jesus – that is, for a full and abundant life – in all the wrong places?
For example, one of the ways we look for life is through entertainment. We go to movies, ball games, concerts, horse races, and God only knows what else seeking to be entertained. We play video games and surf the Internet and Twitter and text our friends, as if there’s no tomorrow. We watch television for hours on end.
We have an insatiable appetite for entertainment, but, at the end of the day, we’re left empty and unfulfilled. It’s not that any of these forms of entertainment are essentially bad; it’s just that they give us a temporary fix, at best. They’re not the source of true and abundant life.
I sat behind a young woman at the Texarkana Symphony concert last Saturday night. She spent half the concert texting her friends. Oh, I suppose she could’ve been bored and this was just her way of coping, but I doubt it. I suspect she would’ve been multi-tasking if she’d been at a rock concert.
What this says to me is that the event itself is not enough. Even if it’s captivating, it’s short-lived. It’s like the song Peggy Lee made popular several years – we do all these things; yet, when it’s over, we ask, “Is that all there is?”
It’s a sad song. Her father rescues her from a house fire, he takes her to the circus, she falls in love; yet, looking back with disappointment, she asks, “Is that all there is … to a fire … to the greatest show on earth … to falling in love?” The song keeps going back to the refrain:
“… If that’s all there is, my friends,
then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball,
if that’s all there is.”
Entertainment is one of those places we look for life in abundance and come up empty-handed. It’s a way of seeking the living among the dead.
Another is recreation. I should know. For recreation, I’ve ridden motor scooters and now, a motorcycle; I’ve flown airplanes, sailed boats, and tried my hand at woodworking; tennis and golf. Going camping is still one of my favorite pastimes. What’s your favorite form of recreation?
Like entertainment, there’s nothing wrong with recreation. The word itself means to re-create, and ideally, that’s what happens when you participate in some recreational activity – you come back renewed and refreshed, as if you’ve been created all over again.
The problem is it doesn’t last. Before you know it, you find yourself just as pent up and stressed out as before, and in need of another get-away vacation. No matter how much recreating do you, it’s never quite enough.
And so, if you’re not careful, recreation can be yet another way of seeking the living among the dead. So can family and friends, when you expect too much from them.
This is a sensitive subject, so listen carefully: Family and friends are precious gifts of God, and a loving and supportive circle of family and friends is absolutely essential to your well-being, but they’re not the source of true and everlasting life. When you look to your family and friends to fulfill your needs – and that includes your husband or your wife – you pull each other down and draw each other farther away from the goal of life in abundance.
God alone is the source of life. Family and friends, no matter how much you love them, must always come second. This is why Jesus taught his disciples,
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;
and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)
One of my favorite illustrations in premarital counseling is the unity candle. You know what I mean – a candelabra with three candles. The taper on one side represents the bride, and the taper on the other side represents the groom. In the middle is a larger candle representing their union as husband and wife. It’s meant to symbolize the promise of scripture that “they will be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
I use it as an object lesson to point out how, no matter how much two people love each other and are committed to each other, they’re still two separate people. So, the question is this: Should you blow out the individual tapers after you light the unity candle, or leave them burning? There’s no right or wrong answer. You can go either way. To blow them out emphasizes their new life as husband and wife and their willingness to lose themselves in devotion to each other; to leave them burning emphasizes their new life as a couple, in addition to their individual lives and distinct personalities.
What I try to get across is that a healthy relationship is not one or the other, but a balance between the two – a balance between intimacy and separateness. Too much intimacy leads to being codependent; too much independence leads to detachment and what we often refer to as “married singles.”
The point is, when we look to family and friends to fulfill our longing for a full and abundant life, we place an unrealistic expectation on them that’s sure to lead to frustration, anger and disappointment. It’s yet another way of seeking the living among the dead.
So, if entertainment and recreation and family and friends are among the wrong places to look for the living, what are some of the right places where might we expect to find the risen Lord?
The first place that comes to my mind is scripture. The gospels tell us of Jesus and his love. The Old Testament gives us the background; the letters of Paul help us understand what it all means. Putting it all together, we see how Jesus came to earth to renew God’s covenant with Israel and reconcile us to God; how he lived in such a way as to exhibit God’s kingdom and so, teach us how to live in love and harmony with each other; how he died for the forgiveness of our sins; and how he was raised from the dead that we, too, might be raised from this mortal life to a life abundant and eternal.
Reading scripture prayerfully and listening for the voice of God and letting God’s Spirit lead and guide you is one of the best ways I know of experiencing the peace of God’s presence.
But it’s not the only way. I asked a friend, “Where would you look to find the risen Lord?” and she said, “Among God’s people.” Can you think of a better answer? Jesus said,
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there I am in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20)
When we come together in the name of Jesus Christ to worship, to study, to fellowship, to pray, we experience a power greater than ourselves. The sum is greater than the parts. We feel the transcendence of God and know that, in the words of Paul, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Yet another place to find the risen Lord is in the beauty of nature. Kathy and I spent all day Friday working out in the yard. It’s amazing how, seemingly overnight, the daffodils popped up out of nowhere – as did the Dandelions! The grass turned green, the trees blossomed and began to fill out with new leaves. She has a little Dogwood in the front yard. You should see it. Last week, it looked like a twig tree; now, it’s completely covered with blooms. How does that happen, except by God’s design?
The wonder of God’s creation in any season is a living witness to the majesty of God. Nobody knew this better than the psalmist, who wrote:
“The heavens declare the glory of God.
The expanse shows his handiwork.
Day after day they pour forth speech,
and night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech nor language,
where their voice is not heard.” (Psalms 19:1-3)
Yet another place to experience the presence of the risen Christ is among the poor. I led a mission trip to Ecuador in 1986 and again in 1988. Both times I came home with the same impression: Those who have the least to offer in terms of material wealth often have the most to offer in terms of spiritual vitality and faith. We went there to serve others; we came home realizing that it was we who’d received the greater blessing.
Jesus told his disciples that to serve him is to serve those in need, and that this is the basis for judging our righteousness. He said,
“‘I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat.
I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.
I was a stranger, and you took me in.
I was naked, and you clothed me.
I was sick, and you visited me.
I was in prison, and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him,
saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you;
or thirsty, and give you a drink?
When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in;
or naked, and clothe you?
When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’
The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you,
inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:35-40)
So, let’s see … a good place to look for the risen Christ is in scripture … among God’s people … in the beauty of nature … in service to the poor. And, if that weren’t enough, another good place to look for Jesus is wherever you happen to be, when you least expect it.
This is what happened to the Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians and, hopefully, to put a stop to this religious nonsense. But the Lord had other plans for Paul. He appeared to him in a blinding light and called his name, saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)
That was to mark the beginning of a new life for Paul, a life so full of promise that Paul would later tell the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Paul was not the only one to experience the risen Christ unexpectedly. Luke says that, on the afternoon of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24:13ff)
In another account, John’s gospel reports how Jesus appeared to seven of his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee some time after the resurrection. They’d fished all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Jesus called out, “Cast your net on the other side of the boat.” When they did, the catch was so great they couldn’t pull it in. At that moment, they realized this was no ordinary man, this was Jesus the Christ; and this was ordinary catch, it was a sign of the new and abundant life he had promised. (John 21:1-7)
Well, here’s what I hope you’ll take home with you today: There are lots of places to look for a full and abundant life. Only one will give you what you’re looking for, and that is a close, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Good News is he invites us to know him in scripture, in the company of the other Christians, in the beauty of nature, in service to those in need. He even comes to us in surprising ways, when we least expect it.
So, open your heart, look for signs of his coming and embrace him as the Lord and Savior of your life. Then sing with all the saints,
“I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, he’s always near.
“He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today;
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart;
You ask me how I know he lives –
He lives within my heart!”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2010 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.