Steve Lindsley

March 31, 2024

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

That is what the visitors asked the women at the tomb on Easter morning.  Why do you look for the living among the dead? And I’ve been rolling that question around in my head all week, thinking about this day, this Easter reality we are now living in; a reality that, in truth, we are living in every day and not just one Sunday a year….

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

It’s an odd question, isn’t it?  Only Luke has the visitors asking it.  In John it’s “Why are you weeping,” which seems appropriate given the circumstances.  In Matthew and Mark their first words to the women are “Don’t be afraid” – which, while perhaps wishful thinking, still makes sense that they would ask it.

But “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  It’s a strange thing to ask, if for no other reason than it was not the living the women were looking for; not in the least.  They had long given up on that.  The women came to the tomb that morning to anoint the body of Jesus – the three-day dead body of Jesus.  They fully expected to find a body there, because that is what one typically finds in tombs.  As former Gilchrist speaker Anna Carter-Florence once said, “If the dead don’t stay dead, what can you count on?”[1]

“Why do you look for the living among the dead.”  That’s the question we’re greeted with this Easter morning; the day Christians around the globe celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But more than that – the day that marks the culmination of God’s work carried out in a living, breathing human being who walked this earth and embodied the very essence of the grace, love and mercy of God.

Easter is that moment when God declares, through the rising of the morning sun and a rolled-away stone, what we have come to call “the good news:” that death does not get the last word.  As noted theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts it, “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with God.”[2]

And so on this day that we celebrate our living, resurrected God, we put on our Sunday best, we sing “Jesus Christ is Risen today,” we hear the story that never gets old.  And through it all we proclaim with heart and soul and voice the truth we embrace in times of joy and cling to in times of need:  Jesus Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Thanks be to God.

But if we listen closely through the loud trumpets and joyful singing, if we listen beyond the hallelujahs and he-is-risens, we can still hear that question, echoing deep within the recesses of our hearts, that place where our greatest hopes and our worst fears collide.  We hear it in the voice of a world that has grown more accustomed to fake news than good news.  We hear it in the cries of the suffering who long to be made whole.  We hear it whispered and we hear it screamed all around us:

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Jill Duffield, former editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, lifts up for us something that should not go unnoticed on that first Easter morning – that it was the women, and only the women, who showed up first:

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James and the other unnamed women do what needs to be done, regardless of their own loss and sorrow. They push through. They keep going. They care for others. They show up again and again and again. They procure and prepare spices, get up at dawn and head to the tomb. The eleven disciples are shut in and in shock as the women do the hard work that death, and love, requires.[3]

These women were the first to come out of their tombs of grief and sorrow in order to do “the hard work of love.” They led the way.  But others would eventually follow them there.

We think of Peter who ran to the tomb – ran, not walked.  Ran even though he was undoubtedly bearing the heavy burden of guilt and shame that came from denying days before that he even knew who Jesus was.  We think of Peter running to the tomb even though others who heard the women that morning thought it nothing more than an “idle tale” or – more closely to the original Greek – “pure garbage.”  Peter followed the women’s lead and came out of his tomb of guilt and shame so that he could do the hard work of love.

We think of all the others who would follow Jesus in the years to come; even though they never actually met him but only heard of him; even though the powers-that-be did not make it easy for them.  We think of those who came out of their tombs of uncertainty and obstacles and fears to follow Jesus, to form this thing we now call church, and in so doing do the hard work of love.

And we think of us today – we who are trying our best to follow Jesus like those who came before us; we who more and more are coming into contact with a culturally twisted form of Jesus that bears little resemblance to the one in scripture.  We who are, by definition, Easter people – heirs to this great resurrection hope that we often struggle, mightily, to embody.

Why is it that we struggle looking for the living among the dead?  Could it be because, in many ways, we actually prefer our tombs?  Tending to focus more on the corpses of long-dead ideas and ideals.  Clinging to tired, old visions of ourselves and our churches, as if through our clinging they might suddenly come back to life again.  Resigning ourselves to the brokenness of our world as just “the way things are.”  We choose to stay with what we know in our hearts to be dead, precisely because it is all we know.  It feels safe, familiar.  It feels like something we can control, even though we cannot.

And so we take our hopes and dreams – and seal them up in tombs of guilt and shame.  We take love of neighbor and love of self – and seal them up in tombs of isolation and loneliness and inadequacy.  We take grace and mercy and forgiveness – and seal those up in tombs of fear and scarcity and anxiety.

And on this day, beloved, the Living God calls us out of every last one of those tombs.

There is a phrase that we speak in every worship service.  It is part of our Lord’s Prayer.  It’s also part of our church’s mission statement, which we’ve been using in worship throughout Lent.  The phrase is: on earth as it is in heaven.  Do you know what that means, I wonder?  Do you know what it means to be “on earth as it is in heaven?”

It means that we are in constant pursuit of a world that looks more and more like what God wants it to look like, as improbable and impossible as that sometimes seems to be.  It means, as one of this year’s Gilchrist Speakers Kate Murphy wrote in an op-ed this past week, bearing witness to a new way of living, “a way of absorbing and transforming the violence of the cross without perpetuating it.”  It means following the women’s lead on Easter morning and engaging relentlessly in the hard work of love, even when it leads us right into our tombs.  And it means expecting to find life in those tombs we shut ourselves in, emerging from them to a new way of being – on earth as it is in heaven.

You want to know what that looks like, friends?  I’ve shared this story with you before, but it bears repeating here.  Years ago in a small church fellowship hall, an Alcoholics Anonymous group had their weekly meeting.  The members had been gathering together for years; they counted each other as close friends.  Oftentimes meetings resembled more social hour than group support, but it was for them what they needed it to be, even if it meant spending more time on the surface of things, even if it meant parking themselves permanently outside the tomb.

And then one day a young man in his early twenties showed up.  It was his first time attending a meeting like this.  With much effort he announced that he had been sober for four days before he relapsed.  He was in great distress, shut tight in his tomb of shame and fear and inadequacy and loneliness, and he wondered if he would ever get out of it, or if anyone would come in for him.

There was a long period of silence.  Finally a voice across the way said, “Son, I’ve been sober for 35 years.  And I’m still scared – still grieving what I’ve lost and scared of losing what I haven’t lost already.  Thank you for helping me remember who I am and why I’m here.”

And then, turning to the rest, he said, “You know, I’m actually a member of an important society.  You know what it’s called?  It’s called the White Knuckle Society.  Grabbing, gripping, holding on by my fingernails every single day.  Anybody else here a member?”  Everyone’s hand in the room shot up.  And the old man turned to the newcomer and said, “Friend, this is the White Knuckle Society.  And you are most welcome here, for this is where hope has a home.”

Beloved, the truth is that we have our own weekly meeting of the White Knuckle Society right here in this sanctuary every Sunday morning.  Some of us are sick, some are lonely, some are depressed.  Some of us are dealing with families that need more than we can give.  Our parents may be growing weak.  Our children may be having trouble in school.  Our job may be phased out and we have no idea what we’ll do next.   We may be experiencing violence in our homes and don’t yet have the courage to seek help.  We may have made a really bad choice and wonder if redemption is even possible.  We may look at the deep brokenness and pain that’s happening in our country and our world and wonder when and if it will ever end.

And so if Easter is going to mean anything to us other than a holiday on the calendar, if the resurrected Jesus is going to mean anything to us, it is that the hope we seek cannot be confined to some far-off heaven in the distant future.  It is meant for right here and now – on earth, as it is in heaven.  That is what Easter is about for us.

So come out of your tombs, people of God.  Come out and come into a new way of living, an “on earth as it is in heaven” way of living.   Come out of all in your life that seeks to shut you in or cut you off.  Come out of anything and everything that holds you back, that keeps you from moving forward.  Come out of the tombs that try to convince you that you are not loved, that you are not enough, that you are alone, that you are a failure, that it’s your fault.  Come out!  Come out of the tombs that seek to separate you from the One who has come out already, who led the way, and who wants so much for you to follow his lead.

Come out and feel the warmth of the morning sun after days of despair.  Come out and experience the joy of women with good news to share; come out and run with Peter to see the truth of this day: that he is not here.  Jesus Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!

And for that, in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


[2] Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God.