Easter Message: “The Living and the Dead”

The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
*oil on panel
*87.6 x 107.3 cm
*circa 1611-1614

 

 

“The Living and the Dead”
A Message on Luke 24:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Luke 24:1-12 (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

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This past Wednesday we loaded up the confirmation students in one of the church vans and drove them over to the cemetery behind the funeral home next door.

Now this may seem like a strange thing to do, but the topic we were studying that day was death and resurrection. So I figured what better place to talk about those things than at a cemetery. And what better time to talk about those subjects than Holy Week!

Death is not something we talk about much in our culture. I grew up on a farm which gave me an advantage in learning about death, in my opinion, because animals sometimes die on farms. Sometimes it’s due to old age, but other times it is due to other factors. We had some cows get struck by lightning. We had a bull get out on the highway and get hit by a car. We had a horse founder and die. And we also raised and processed our own beef, which means… well, you know.

But the first time I experienced the death of someone I knew was when my grandfather died. I think I was 12 years old. It was all so foreign to me. His funeral was at a church but it wasn’t like any church service I had been to before. I didn’t understand it very much and I remember being confused. I had a lot of questions.

The confirmands had a lot of questions Wednesday evening as well. “When someone dies do they instantly go to heaven, or do they have to wait until Jesus comes back?” “It is okay to be cremated?” “If someone is cremated how will their body be raised from the dead?” “What will the resurrection be like?”

Good questions from young minds.We answered and talked about those questions.

In the scripture we read today from Luke’s gospel we find questions about death as well. The women go to the tomb where Jesus was laid only to find it empty. The “two men in dazzling clothes,” or angels, appear. The men ask the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Being familiar with the Easter story we tend to scan over that bit of scripture and thus miss just how much of an unexpected shock it must have been to the women.

The women had gotten up early in the morning and had gone to the ancient equivalent of a cemetery with the intent of putting spices and oil on Jesus’ lifeless body.

It wasn’t something they could have been looking forward to doing. Just two days before Jesus had been brutally beaten and killed. Nails had pierced his hands and feet. A spear had been thrust in his side. Because he died just before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday, his body could not be properly prepared for burial in the tomb. It had been a rush job, but the women were thankful to Joseph of Arimathea who had gone to Pilate Friday afternoon and asked him for Jesus body. Joseph did the best he could and put Jesus in a tomb that Joseph had created for himself.

Now the women walked to the tomb to finish preparing Jesus’ body. They were planning on unwrapping the linen cloth that Joseph had put around Jesus’ body, place the ointments and spices on the body, and wrap it back up with the linen cloth.

Now this was significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that by doing this they would be “unclean.” In Numbers 19 the Jewish law said that touching a dead body meant a person was unclean for seven days. They would have to go through certain purification rites and have the water of cleansing sprinkled on them on the third day and the seventh day before they once again would be clean. And if they didn’t do this they would be cut off from the people. Pretty drastic, huh?

The women were willing to pay the cost, thought. The were in for a surprise, tough. They went to the grave expecting to see the dead, and instead they encounter the living. They discovered that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were the first humans to hear the Easter message.

As Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a resurrection people. We are not a people looking for the living among the dead. We are a people of new life, an Easter people.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t act like it. We act like people of the world, not people of Jesus.

Even with our best intentions our focus can drift from heavenly things to the things of our world. Our problems seem to grasp our attention and refuse to let it go. The bills pile up and financial challenges seem like they will overwhelm us. Our health or the health of loved ones become medical problems resulting in test after test, procedure after procedure, prescription after prescription of expensive medicines that may not seem to help.

Or maybe our worldly focus is on relationships that are strained or even broken. Maybe we have been betrayed and our hearts are broken. Maybe the memories of something we’ve done in the past create guilt and continue to affect our present and the future.

Maybe our focus is on money and power and climbing to the top. Maybe our focus is on our work or our careers, taking away time and energy from our families and loved ones.

You get the idea. The problem is that all those things are temporary. All those things are spiritually dead. We look for life, for significance, for meaning, for purpose, where those things cannot be found. We look for the living among the dead.

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

The worldly things are passing away. Jesus does not.

Matthew 6:19-20 reads, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Jesus is not dead. He is alive. That is the very foundation of the Christian religion.

We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

Each Sunday, when we gather as followers of Jesus Christ to worship God, we celebrate Easter. Even during the season of Lent, which just ended, a season of repentance and preparation, Sundays are not counted in the 40 days of Lent, because each Sunday is a “little-Easter.” If one is fasting or has “given up” something for Lent, those don’t have to be observed on the Sundays during Lent. (How many of you who gave something up for Lent are thinking to yourselves, “NOW he tells us!”)

The resurrection is such a big deal to us Christians that we even changed the day we observe the Sabbath. We observe the Sabbath on Sunday because that is the day of Jesus’ resurrection. We are a resurrection people. We are an Easter people.

So my challenge to you this Easter Sunday is to remember that as Christians, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we aren’t just Easter people on Easter Sunday, but every day of the year.

Death has been overcome by the love of God the Father, Jesus his only son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is available to every person who calls Jesus Lord.

Let us not look for the living among the dead. The tomb is empty. Death does not live. Jesus is alive.

Let us live each day remembering that we are Easter people.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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