In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this, and you refuse to listen? Jesus had told and taught His disciples, when these women were around, that, “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” He spoke it plainly. No parables. It was straightforward. Come on, now, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Joanna, Salome – weren’t you listening that day? Actually, were you not listening those several days?
These awe-inspiring angels are proclaiming Christ’s victory, but this is also a bit of Law for us. Like these women, have we not listened? Be truthful, how often are you in the pew, but zoning out. You listen to the sermon for a bit, but then there is that adorable toddler just two pews in front of you, and you have fun, making faces, or spending time actually thinking, “I need to stop playing with this baby and listen,” all the while not hearing the Word of God. You start drifting on a tangent, thinking about the ball game later that day, or the homework that still needs to get done, or the date you enjoyed last night.
When you are not listening, you can miss some very important stuff! These women were faithful followers of Jesus, but even they had not listened to His prophecies about dying and rising.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you misunderstand? “She is only sleeping,” Jesus said, referring to Jairus’ daughter, and regarding His dear friend, He stated, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”
Lutherans often will follow Jesus’ example here, and use an expression, “Asleep in Jesus,” to refer to Christians who have departed this earthly life. We really should not talk about them as dead. They are alive in Christ. Their bodies merely rest until they also get to enjoy the glory of seeing Jesus face to face!
In the creed we confess that Christ will “judge the living and the dead.” But you probably are like the majority of people, and misunderstand our Lord and His Church here. The “living and the dead” is not talking about those who breathe and walk the earth, versus those who lie in cemeteries. No. “The living and the dead” refers to those who are in Christ, and those who have rejected our Lord. Those who have died in the Lord are really living! And sadly, those who refuse Him, even though their hearts pump and their lungs breathe, they are dead already.
We are prone to misunderstand Jesus. The ravages of sin affect our minds, our memories and the clarity of thought. So as plain as Jesus’ words are, we easily misunderstand. Still, that is no excuse. You cannot pass any blame for your misunderstanding of Jesus. It is still your own fault.
Or was it just that they forgot?
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you forgot?
Talk of dementia and Alzheimer’s is all around. Vitamin and herbal supplement companies have various products to sell, claiming they help memory recall. Lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and exercising the body and mind are all supposed to help, too. But these women don’t appear to have had medical conditions. Was their memory simply slipping, or did they choose not to remember? Jesus’ talk of resurrection was not easy to understand, even after seeing Lazarus rise. Perhaps because it was difficult, they blocked it out of their memories.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” My dear ladies, our Lord Jesus told you all about this and you refuse to believe? Like the apostles later in the day, it seems too good to be true. You watched Him die before your very eyes. How could He be alive?!
And there you are. Smack, dab, in the middle of the most basic sin that is at the heart of all sin: unbelief. The angels gently rebuke the women for their unbelief. Later that evening, Jesus Himself would rebuke the apostles for their unbelief. Thinking Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead is calling Christ a liar!
Not listening, forgetting, misunderstanding, refusing to believe. These are the wretched sins you slip into, and die – daily. But our Risen Lord has an answer! Daily He calls you back to your Baptism. He reminds you of that moment when He called you by name, and washed you into His death and resurrection. He renews you and refreshes you in the Absolution that flows from Baptism.
Like the pair of angels on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant – the location of God’s forgiveness and grace in the Old Testament –God sends this pair of angels to declare the wondrous mystery of Christ’s resurrection, pointing to the Living and Risen Body of Christ as the location of God’s forgiveness and grace now.
You can’t look for Jesus in a pyramid. You won’t find Him in a Jerusalem cemetery. The women thought they’d give Him a proper burial, since they didn’t have time on Good Friday, before the Sabbath began. They planned on saying their “farewells” to Him that Sunday morning. But the angels set them straight: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” “He is risen. He is not here.”
Jesus Christ is alive and well. He is living. And as surely as the Lord lives, He delivers that life to you! This morning He speaks life into your ears and feeds life into your mouths. He transforms your lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious Body.
All this He does that when you depart this earth, your loved ones may have the comfort of hearing: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That’s right! Because Jesus is living, you are too. Because He is risen, you will rise too. And when you depart this life, you will not be truly dead. You will be alive in Christ!
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!