Looking in the Right Place
Text: Luke 24:5b: "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"
Terrible things have happened to these women—Mary, and Joanna, and Mary Magdalene. They had been following along with Jesus from the earliest moments in his ministry, from early in the story. They’ve seen him at his best and at his worst. They have watched as the crowds around him grew and grew, and the movement around him became viral.
And they have been close by as it all came apart in the blink of an eye. Here was a man who talked about love as the means of making change, and suddenly everyone turned against him in hate—the powerful Romans, yes, and the religious authorities, and finally even his closest friends. In the space of just a few days they’ve gone from being the people closest to the biggest rock star in Jerusalem to standing by and having to watch as he was shamed, tortured, and executed. Their friend. Her son.
Terrible things have happened to these women. And now it is early in the morning, as soon as it can be after the quiet of sabbath is over, and they are looking for him.
They want to know that at least the broken body is safe somewhere. They want to know that there is at least a little hope he will have some dignity in death. They want to know that somehow, in all this confusion, in all the reversals and all the hate that has overshadowed them, there is still a glimmer of hope.
They come out just as the sun begins to tint the Eastern sky. They search and search. But they don’t find what they are looking for. They don’t find him, and they don’t find hope. Because they are looking in the wrong place.
They are looking in a graveyard. They are looking in a tomb. They are looking in a place of death. And that is a completely sensible thing to do; when they last saw him, Jesus was dead on the cross. He was so dead that even when he soldier jabbed him with a spear, there was no response. It was the final indignity. At least they hadn’t broken his legs to make him die more quickly.
Maybe they’ve heard through the underground network that he was buried here. They had already fled by the time that happened. They went to be somewhere safe. They went somewhere to cry. Another follower, someone more on the fringes of the movement, had taken him down and buried him in a grave. They thought it was here.
But they are looking in the wrong place. They are looking in a graveyard. Suddenly there are two men with them, men who didn’t come there with them, men they didn’t see in the place when they arrived. And what the men tell them is the truth: you are looking in the wrong place. You don’t find living things in graveyards.
• • •
Terrible things have happened to the disciples, too.
Not only have they been through the same cataclysmic reversals that the women in the story have lived through; even worse, they’ve had to confront their own weaknesses.
All this happened on Friday. They’ve now had a little more than two days to reflect on the fact that even though they loved their friend—even though the though he was right about what he said, and all the bullying powers of the soldiers and the religious leaders were wrong—in the end every last one of them turned and ran. None of them knew how to stand up for what they believed, what they knew, was right. They were intimidated. They were afraid.
And now they are looking for hope, too. Now they are looking for some kind of sense to come out of all this. He said a lot of weird things. He talked sort of mysteriously sometimes. What was it he said about rebuilding the temple? That crazy talk about rebuilding it in three days?
They are looking for answers, but they are looking in the wrong place. Because they are looking into their memories instead of at what is right in front of them. What is right in front of them is the news of the women who have been to the graveyard. Three of them, more of them, who had the same experience, seeing the men in the dazzling clothes and the empty tomb, and now telling this to the men who had followed him.
What is the problem with those disciples? They are looking in the wrong place, too. You know where they’re looking? They’re looking for news from a man, rather than at the women right in front of them.
You know what it takes for them to get it? It takes one of their own going to see for himself, and then to be the one to tell them. Easter Day may be the one and only time in recorded history that mansplaining actually served a useful purpose.
They don’t get it, at least not at first. At least the women were out early looking, even if they were looking in the wrong place. The men weren’t even looking, and when they heard, they didn’t get it, because they we listening for a different kind of person.
• • •
Terrible things have been happening to us.
We have seen with our own eyes that there are agents of hate and dealers of death at work in the world in our own day. They mean to make us too afraid to treat each other with anything other than fear, suspicion, and contempt. And, if we are honest about it, we are afraid.
And it isn’t just other people in other places. We see in our own culture, our own country, how easy it is to sow the seeds of fear between neighbor and neighbor, between community and community, just by words. Words that appeal to our baser selves, words that tempt us toward that easy idea that people who are different from us are somehow less than us.
We want some hope in this picture. We look for some light on the horizon. We want some promise that this will all turn around somehow.
And we can find that hope. We can find that light. But we have to start looking in the right place.
We have to quit looking in graveyards. We have to give up looking where the dead things are. We aren’t going to find what we’re looking for among the tombs where the dead ideas are buried—the idea that your worth is measured by your wealth. The idea that a person’s dignity is determined by something, anything, other than their character. The idea that violence can ever be more powerful than justice. The idea that any of us, of any faith, can make the claim to be righteous because of the label we claim for our faith.
In our long history we have tried those ideas, and we know that they have no life left in them. If we want to find that hope, we have to look in the right place. We have to look where things grow. We have to look where life is.
Remember that this whole story does not start in a graveyard; it starts in a garden. Gardens are where things grow. And this story, even though it starts in a graveyard, ends up in a garden—the garden where the women first see the risen Christ, the garden of that dawning morning where life will not be overcome by death.
Where life is, God is. Where things grow, where things prosper, where the abundance of love and dignity and food and joy that is so much around us is not the privilege of a tiny few but the life shared by everyone, that is where God is to be found.
And when the people who have found that life speak up, those are the voices we are meant to be listening to. They may not be the smartest. They may not be the wealthiest. In this season of madness we are living in, they almost surely will not be the loudest, or the most brazen, or the most shocking.
They may be the voices of children. They may be the voices of poor people. They may be the voices of people we overlook, who are somehow invisible and silent to us. People of other faiths, or other races, or other lifestyles, or other languages.
Wherever life is, whoever brings us news of where it is to be found, that is where we are meant to be, and that is where we are meant to look.
Now, I know this place is built of stone. But make no mistake: This is no graveyard. This is a garden. This is a place where things come to life. This is a place where we find that hope. This is a place where despair turns to joy, where doubt becomes curiosity, where grace can be seen in the lives of the people sitting next to you in the pew, where we see things coming back to life not just at the end of time but at the beginning of each new day. And this is a place where we regard death with defiance and our outrageous claim: Alleluia.
And that is because the risen body of Christ, the renewed spirit of the Lord of Love, is this place, these people—this garden where things grow.
So if in the midst of all this terrible time of ours you are looking for reason to hope, if in the midst of all the despair and darkness the world wants to engulf us in you are looking for a ray of light, then quit looking in graveyards. Look here. Because this place is an Easter place, and we are already risen from the power of death and sin.