Why do you look for the living among the dead?
It is the question of Easter morning. Why are these women coming to the tomb carrying their supplies of bodily embalming, their perfumes and their potions to preserve the dead, their unguents and spices, carefully prepared after the Sabbath had ended, during the night when all was dark and quiet as the tomb, ready to rise early in the morning to use the first light to do for the dead what they had been unable to do on Friday in the evening, since it was already late, and the sky was dark, and they were afraid and exhausted from watching from afar?
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
The truth is, that these women are not looking for the living but for the dead. They are seeking the corpse of Jesus to cover with their spices and their tears. They watched the men take his body from the cross, and seal it into the tomb. They know that they are in the right place.
The problem is, that they are looking for the wrong thing. They are looking for a dead body, not a living, breathing, risen Christ.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen.
The women expected to find Jesus where they had left him, but he was not there. He would not stay dead, and he would not stay put. They should have known; remember that time when they left him on the hillside and went fishing, and he came to them walking on the water? He never would stay where they left him.
Because we do not have a God who is content to sit still on a celestial throne surrounded by seraphs, but we have a God who is irrepressibly active in the world, who refuses to stay out of our business, who will not be left on a shelf to be taken down and dusted once or twice a year. As C.S. Lewis defined the problem in his Narnia novels, Aslan is not a tame lion. God will not be confined by our expectations.
In the midst of a cruel empire – effective and efficient, yes; ordered and orderly, maybe, but cruel nevertheless – God was at God’s most active among the oppressed and the despised, the sinful and the suffering. He sat at table with friends and enemies alike; he regaled them with stories, he entertained them with wine, he blessed their children and played with them; he loved them. In the lives of the people, when they were sick, or possessed by demons of rage and despair, when they were hungry, even when they were dying, those are the times when Jesus reached out of the shadows and touched them with his divine love, his very human compassion. And so now, in their darkest hour, their deepest grief, when they are afraid that, literally, all is lost, why would the women expect him to remain in the realms of the dead when he is needed by the living?
He has been there, too. He has touched them, too, the ones already in their graves. From his tomb he unlocked the doors of theirs. But he did not stay in the land of the dead. Why would you look for the living among the dead?
When the women returned to tell their tale, the others didn’t believe them. They thought it an idle tale, as though this were any time for telling stories. But it was true. It was more true than any fable they could have fabricated. Jesus was risen. Jesus is alive.
The women, the disciples, even Peter didn’t see Jesus on this occasion. He would come to them soon, and there are other stories which tell of other encounters. But even in this telling, where Jesus is not, the signs of new life, new power, new glory are all around. The rock rolled back, breaking death’s hold on him. The shrouds shrugged off. The angels left to point the way, “He is risen.” The breaking of a new dawn.
No one saw the moment of Resurrection; the Resurrection on which the faith of the apostles was grounded and grew was the Resurrection which continued in their lives, as they saw Jesus risen and among them, as they saw his work continuing, God’s mercy abounding, God’s power still at work around them.
We do not come to Easter morning looking for a dead God to bury with our songs and praises. We do not come to sit and wait by the empty tomb for Jesus to return to his resting place.
We come to seek out, to find and encounter the living Christ, raised for us, the first fruits of the dead, so that death has no more dominion over us, nor is any life lost to God. We seek, and we shall find; we knock, and the door, even the doors of the tomb are opened unto us; we ask, and we listen for the voice of God among us for an answer.
And we might as well go ahead and expect to find God in the places we least expect to encounter the divine, at the most unexpected hours: our God is not confined by our expectations, by our restrictions, by our actions or inaction; God will work with and through us, yes, but God does not await our permission to play God.
And when we are left waiting outside an empty tomb, when we wonder where God has gone, why our plans have been turned upside down, inside out, shredded; while we are wondering what to do next, we might remember the women with their spices and their story: he is risen. He is alive. He is up to something.
Where there is danger and disease, sorrow and oppression, God has never been more active. In the midst of life, of our mortality, the immortal one still moves among us. In a word, in the stroke of a brush, in the touch of a stranger steadying an elbow on an escalator, in the joy of a child’s laughter, in the emerging of spring and the rising of a musical phrase, in the sacraments of the church and the coming together of the community founded on the rock rolled away from the empty tomb, we see glimpses of God. Where there is love, where there is life, where there is joy; even where there is spice-scented grief, the angels whisper, he is risen.
He is alive.
Thanks be to God.
 “For Mr Beaver had warned them, ‘He’ll be coming and going,’ he had said. ‘One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.’” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (London: Puffin Books, 1950) 165-6