Easter 2016: seeking the living

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

These angels are irrepressible! The women are on their faces on their ground in fear, and the angels, instead of telling them, “Do not be afraid,” are giggling and teasing them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here.”

Angels are not known for their good manners, always bursting in unannounced and proclaiming people pregnant and the like. Still, you have to smile at these two, they are so overflowing with the joy and wonder of the message that they have to deliver: “He is not here, but he has risen. Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The message of the angels, the message of Jesus’ resurrection is that the life of God will not be defeated by death, that it will not be overcome by evil, that it will never lay still in the grave while there is work to be done, justice to roll down like a river, love to be made known to all of God’s creation.

So why look for the living among the dead?

There is a clear choice, in the story of Jesus, between the life of God and the way of death and defeat. We find that the sacrifice of the innocent for the sake of the powerful leads nowhere. The betrayal of belief, the betrayal of love for a few silver dollars leads only to death. The dismissal of the grace of God because it doesn’t fit into the box that we have brought to the party doesn’t stop that grace from overflowing; it only leaves us confused, and bitter.

It is no good looking for the living God along the pathways laid out by the dealers of death.
The way of life, on the other hand, prefers healing to harm, repentance to revenge. In the Garden where Jesus was arrested, a sword was wielded in anger to cut off the ear of one in the service of the dealers of death, and Jesus stopped the violence, even as it was being wielded to protect him, and he healed the ear of the wounded one, even though that one would turn around and bind the hands that healed him and lead him away to the cross.

In the way of life, justice prevails over power. The sacrifice that is offered, the life that is given, the love that is given would give its life for the sake of the world, not in order to conquer the world, but to convert it to the knowledge of the love of God, to the irrepressible life that is found in God.

We do not need to go looking for death: it will find us. We see it on the news, in our streets, in our politics, maybe even in our churches.

It deals in fear, which leads to mistrust and suspicion, burying love and fellowship under layers of paranoia and festering prejudice.

It deals in insecurity and arrogance, which lead us to judgement and persecution, the selfishness which leads to isolation, the self-importance that leads inevitably to violence.
It deals in death, while Jesus would deal us life.

The life of the Risen Christ proclaims that the power of fear, arrogance, self-importance, the violence of death have no hold over the life of God, the love of God. It is irrepressible.

It deals in hope; the hope that even in the midst of terror, there may be love, there may be life. It deals in the courage to tell out the story of Jesus’ resurrection, even when we might not be believed, at first; even if the ways of life might be thought naïve, or foolish; it deals in encouragement. It deals in the grace, in the love of God: the gratitude that leads to generosity; the repentance that leads to recovery, and to justice.

The forces of death will push back. We see it on the news. We see it all around us. Even in our own churches, the powers of evil will try to quell our resurrection joy.

On a clergy Facebook page this morning, I read of calamities accompanying various Easter Vigils last night, and one wise colleague responded that the powers of evil were actively attempting to burn down our hopes of resurrection, of restoration, of life over death. A thurifer, swinging incense over the congregation, lost grip on the chain, and the hot coals fell out onto the church carpet, burning holes instantly as they touched the ground. But, the baptismal font was right there, and filled with the waters blessed as a sign of our salvation, and they were the perfect foil for that impudent fire.

The powers of evil will not overcome resurrection. They will not silence our alleluias. The life of Christ, Jesus risen from the tomb, will defeat death. Over and again we see it: little signs of life in the midst of it all, little signs of God. The quiet, distant laughter of the angels, filled with glee, irrepressible: Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here.

He has risen. Alleluia!

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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