Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

A Sermon preached on March 27th, Easter Day, at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Isaiah 65: 17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

Before I start, will all the women please stand up and say loudly and clearly: “The Lord is risen!” Thank you. Now would all the men please shake your heads and look skeptical. That is what it was like on the first day according to all four Gospels. Women, Jesus’ female followers and disciples, dared go the tomb despite the danger involved: Women were first to witness to Jesus’ resurrection and the men did not believe them. Makes you wonder why we excluded women from church leadership for so long – perhaps a feeling of guilt and embarrassment on the men’s part? 

But that is not my main topic today. Instead I want to focus on the question the two “men in dazzling clothes” ask: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The most obvious reason for this question is that it is the first indication that the one whom the women have come to anoint with spices, in accordance with the Jewish burial rituals, that this Jesus is not or no longer dead, but alive. In cemeteries, you tend to find dead people, not the living. So put simply: you are in the wrong place. It is a first pointer to the resurrection we celebrate today and every Sunday. 
But I think there is more to this question. Human beings can be very ambivalent about death. Popular culture sometimes seems to glorify death. This is from a recent article in the Church Times: “In our film entertainment we absorb the deaths of thousands (The Avengers 2012 movie alone had 974); and death — the result of human choices and cruelty — fills the news. The reality of death, however, is not a popular artistic subject: a real individual’s death is generally something to be hidden, and not spoken of.”[1]  That is very true. We do avoid talking about death if it affects our family and friends, if it is too close to home. We almost hide the dying, few people die at home any more. When we recently held a series of conversations on death and dying here at church many participants said that one reason for coming was to have an opportunity to talk about death, to break this taboo. 

Then we have those who worship death, whose god is terror, pain, suffering, death. The IS terrorists who killed and maimed in Brussels this week clearly belong to this group. They do not believe in God – or in Allah – only in death. But I would include others in this category of death worshippers. Politicians who advocate carpet-bombing, politicians who advocate torture, politicians who think it is right to target the families of terrorists, politicians who want us to shoot at refugees on the borders of our little nation states. Politicians who sell fear and hate. They worship death. And in my opinion, worshipping guns and believing that the ownership of these instruments of death is some kind of fundamental right comes pretty close too, I’m afraid. 

Don’t look for the living among the dead, don’t look for the living, loving God in death and killing. We worship a living God and a God of life, abundant, joyful, renewed, blessed life. Paul tells the Corinthians that death is the enemy and that Jesus will destroy all the forces hostile to humanity. All the rulers, powers, and authorities that deface, oppress and spoil God’s magnificent world and all God’s creatures. Death is the unmaking of God’s creation, resurrection is the beginning of the remaking, the recreation. 

Christ has been raised from the dead. In his resurrection death has already been defeated, not only for him but for us all. That is what Paul means when he uses the image of the first fruits. Christ is risen, Christ is alive, God is a living God, God loves life, God gives life, God restores life. After this sermon, and the Creed in which we affirm our belief in this fundamental Christian truth, we will decorate that plain wooden cross, that instrument of torture and death with Spring flowers as a symbol of the new life that we are promised and to which the resurrection points.

This Easter, open your whole self — heart, soul, mind, and strength — to God’s inspiring call to new and renewed life. Practice resurrection! Tell the world that we worship a living God. Tell the world that our God is with the living.  Tell the world that our God is wherever there is life. Tell the world that our God promises us not only life after death, but also new life in this life if we only allow ourselves to “be made alive in Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Show and tell the world, especially those who are spiritually dead, those who are full of hate and fear, those who worship a god of death, what this new life of love is like.  Ask this question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” And give this answer: “The Lord is not here, but has risen,” risen to bring new life. All we have to is embrace it.

[1]   Justin Lewis-Anthony in “Church Times” of 18.3.16

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