An Easter homily from 2009.
Why do you seek the living among the dead?
That was the angel’s question to the women who came to the tomb on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Instead of finding Jesus, they found an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Confused and desperate, they sought Jesus among the tombs, weeping. Someone has stolen His body. Where have you taken my Lord? Where have you laid Him? Tell us where you have hidden Him.
But the angel asks, Why do you seek the living among the dead?
What kind of question is that? Where else should they look for Jesus? They knew Jesus was dead; they had seen Him buried, and remembered the place. Of course, they would seek the dead Jesus among the dead; that’s where you find buried bodies.
Besides, Jesus had been among the dead all His life. When Adam ate from the tree, he opened the door for sin to enter the world, and at the same time death pushed its way in. From Adam on, death reigned, and the Son of God entered a world under the dominion of death and sin. Jesus came as the life of the world, the Living One, to dwell among the dead.
Wherever He went, lepers gathered to Him, and women with flows of blood, and fathers of dead daughters, and widows with dead sons. Jesus spend His life among corpses and living corpses – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the unclean and sinners, tax gatherers and prostitutes. The Prince of Life pitched His tent among the tombs, and in the end He so identified with this dead world that He submitted to death itself. The Immortal died; the Prince of Life went to the grave.
Yet, the angel asks, Why do you seek the living one among the dead? Jesus spent His life as the Living One among the dead, but on the first Easter, the living one was no longer there. Jesus rose on the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the new week. At the beginning of that new week, the angel says: Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.
We know this. We know better than those foolish women. If archeologists dig up an ancient ossuary and claim it is the bone-box of Jesus of Nazareth, we know it’s a hoax. We know that Jesus is not here, but has risen, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. We know where we can find Jesus. We seek the living Jesus among the living, in heaven with the eternal living Father and the Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of Life. That’s where we should seek Him. That’s where we should focus our minds.
We know this; and yet we don’t. Frequently, we are just as foolish as these women. We can be perfectly orthodox in our confession of the resurrection and ascension, and still seek the living among the dead. We can confess all the right things, and still act as if Jesus had never risen.
As Paul tells it, one of the implications of the resurrection of Jesus is that we should set our minds on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3). It sounds as if Paul is endorsing pietistic irresponsibility, a fearful withdrawal from earth into the safe haven of heaven. He’s not. On the contrary, he’s telling us how we can be faithful here on earth with courage and wisdom. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father in fulfillment of Psalm 110. Yahweh said to my master: Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for your feet. Jesus is enthroned as the priest after the order of Melchizedek, the priest-king, who will defeat all His enemies, above all, the enemy Death.
When our minds are focused on earth, where death holds sway, we are likely to be filled with anxiety and fear. Everywhere we look, we see nothing but opponents, threats, and enemies, and we know they’re too much for us. The Colossians faced false teachers and persecutors who were trying to intimidate them into renouncing Jesus. If they looked at their enemies, they would despair, or be tempted to shrink back. As long as they kept their focus on the priest-king enthroned at the Father’s right hand, the One who would put down all His enemies, they could confess without fear.
We need to have the same focus if we want to be faithful. Things seem to be spinning out of control. Our portfolio has declined 40% in the last few months, and our job is in jeopardy; the world seems increasingly dangerous; we don’t know what the current administration will do next. The world seems to have turned upside down. When we set our minds on the magnitude of our responsibilities and needs, and then look at our own very tiny resources, we’re likely bewildered, paralyzed, fearful.
Don’t set your mind on the dead. Set your minds on the living One, who is among the living, ruling over all things for His church, ruling until His enemies are placed beneath His feet. Set your minds there, and fear nothing.
But Paul isn’t writing here only about Jesus. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, but we are there too. After reminding us where Jesus is, and where we must fix our minds, Paul says, “You have died.” We have passed through death already, because we’ve shared in the circumcision of Jesus, His death on the cross, and in His burial. We have not only shared in His death, but in His resurrection and exaltation. We have died to the dead world, and the life that we have is now hidden with Christ in God.
When the Psalmist was surrounded by enemies, he cried to the Lord for protection. “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” “Hide me in the shelter of your tabernacle and set me on a high rock.” “ In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues.” “Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you.”
What the Psalmist wanted, we have. Christ has been raised, and we
have been raised with Him. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, and we are hidden with Christ in God. He is our shelter, our tabernacle, our fortress, the high rock where we can find refuge from all enemies, including the great enemy Death. Since we’re raised with Christ, we’re invulnerable, for who can ascend to heaven to drag Christ down?
Paul goes even further in verse 4. Christ is our life. Not, Christ gives us life, or Christ defends our life, or Christ supports our life. Christ is our life. I died, Paul tells the Galatians, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. We died with Christ, and Christ lives in us by the Spirit so that our lives conform to His life, repeatedly dying and living again. We are radically de-centered. The center of your life is not in you. It is not even here on earth. Our life is now hid with Christ in God. Our life sits at the right hand of the Father.
The sum of what Paul says is that we, just as much as Jesus, are living ones. We know it would be a mistake to seek Jesus among the tombs. It’s the same mistake to seek ourselves here, to seek meaning and satisfaction and life in what this dead world offers.
Here especially we are frequently like the women on the first Easter. We seek ourselves among the dead. We might seek life in sexual gratification, or insatiable accumulation of things, the greed that Paul calls idolatry. We might try to establish ourselves by belittling others with outbursts of rage or slanderous and abusive speech. We try to find ourselves by practicing the deadly habits of death. All this is a betrayal of the gospel: Why do you seek the living among the dead?
We seek ourselves in ethnic identity, or social class, or economic status. I am cultivated, educated, and sophisticated, not like the barbarous Philistines around me. My income and net worth put me a cut above minimum wage peons. I take pride in my family heritage; it gives me a sense of meaning. Paul says all these distinctions belong to the world of death, the world that has been renovated by Jesus. In the new world that Jesus makes, there is no distinction because Christ is all and in all. When we try to root ourselves in ethnicity or race, in social or economic status; when we find our identity in being Republican or Democrat or rich or poor or black or Hispanic; when we do this, we are betraying the gospel, betraying the announcement of Easter. And the angel asks us as he asked the women at the tomb: Why do you seek the living among the dead?
Instead of seeking your life among the dead, Paul says, you should be at war with death. He moves immediately from saying that Christ is our life to saying we should “put to death” the earthly members. It is an abrupt transition: Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father to train us to kill.
It is abrupt, but it is the demand of the Easter gospel. If Christ is our life, then our lives are conformed to His. And Jesus’ life was a continuous conquest of death, a victory over death by death, a final triumph over death in his resurrection. Jesus the living one spent His life at war with death, and if He has become our life, we should spend our lives waging war in and with Him.
Jesus is our life, and He has commandeered everything. Your life is not found in your own past, or in your present accomplishments, or you future plans and aspirations. Your past is Christ’s past, for you died with Him; your present is His present, for you are hid with Him in God, and He is your life; your future is not your future, but Christ, for when He is revealed, so you will be revealed with Him in glory.
Why seek the living among the dead? The question the angel posed to the women is also a question for us. We died to death, and are alive to God, our lives hid with Christ in God. Jesus is all, and in all, and if we can find our lives only if we find our lives in Him. For He is Risen! He is risen indeed.
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