Luke 24:5-6 (NIV)
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:”
Today is the eighth day of the celebration of Holy Week. Holy Week – a celebration? You may ask.
Yes. We are looking back at the Holy Week from the perspective of Easter. The celebration began with Hosanna, when Jesus Christ walked into Jerusalem, riding a colt, received as an eternal King. And yes, the cross was on the cards. Calvary loomed long in the face of the Word that became Flesh, the God with us, whom we call Jesus Christ. Yet he walked to Jerusalem, knowing fully well that he would be crucified. But, he also knew that he would rise again; that the enemy would be defeated; that death would be shown for what it is: powerless in the presence of the God who ordains life and death, at will. Thus today is the eighth day of the celebration of Holy week, Eighth day from Hosanna, when Christ walked from victory to victory. It is the day the world was changed forever. It is Easter- the day of Resurrection. The one who was dead has been raised to life by the power of God. And his words spoken three days before resurrection has come true, “I am the Way, I am the Truth and I am the Life.”
So what does Easter speak to us during this pandemic? What does the Word of God have to say to us as we continue to travel through the uncertain terrain of COVID-19 and the havoc it has wreaked?
I would like to turn our attention to the Gospel according to Luke chapter 24 verses 5 & 6. (Repeat)
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen
Once a boy who wrote his tenth standard board exams was depressed that he had done his exams terribly. After many anxious days, the day of results arrived. As was the practice then, he went to school and checked the notice board for the list of those who had passed. He confirmed his doubts – he had failed. He went through the list titled “third class” once again. His name, if it ever were to appear would not be anywhere else but in the bottom of the list. Now his number was not even there. Dejected he walked home. He confirmed to himself that he was a failure. His parents tried consoling him. It was of no use. He decided to take a walk to the nearby river. As he stood near the river, without a thought in his mind, he noticed a commotion near his house. He walked back towards his home. He could make out a crowd gathered near his house. His heart began to beat faster. Did something happen to one of his parents? Surely, they must have been heart broken! He began to run, and entered the house and saw his mother seated on the floor, crying, with women sitting next to her, who seemed to be relieved to see him. He looked for his father and through the crowd he came and gave him a hug. He could not understand what was going on. Then he saw his school teacher emerging from the crowd. He congratulated him for obtaining a first class in the board examination – the first youngster from the village to do so! It made no sense to him! He had checked the list! And then it dawned on him! He checked only the list for third class. He couldn’t even imagine passing that he didn’t bother to check the other lists, especially the one for first class! And everyone was overjoyed! As for his mother, she was crying tears of joy, overwhelmed by the victory of her beloved son.
The women were looking for Jesus in the tomb. Afterall that is where they had kept him! But their certainty of finding the body of Jesus breaks down on the third day. The message is loud and clear : He is not here, he is risen! Let us meditate on two matters this Easter day:
We believe in a living God
Who does the Word ‘he’ indicate in the sentence ‘he is not here’?
This he refers to the ‘he’ the women had in their mind – a dead body. A powerless, lifeless body of their teacher. A person who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of Man, the Son of God, but now lay dead. Yes, they had even seen him dead, from a distance. Now they had come to anoint his lifeless body withs spices, as was the custom.
But the angels tell them, the dead person is no longer where they are looking. The one they are looking for- the dead man was not there!
And where was this being said? In the tomb, where he was laid. He was dead after all. But the place where the dead were kept did not have him!
What does this say about our human condition? We often let despair overcome us because we believe our God is powerless. We do not say it out loud, but our actions, our choices and our deepest thoughts reflect our underlying belief. It is a belief that says, this God cannot do much. I need to take control of every situation in my life. I need to hold the reins to every decision. And through this, we render our God a corpse, a dead body, a lifeless entity that cannot do anything. It’s almost like Jesus Christ is still dead.
St. Paul states emphatically, 1 Corinthians 15:57 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”
But the words of the men in glowing robes, in the passage from Luke suggests that such a person does not exist any longer. There is no dead Jesus Christ. Such a God does not exist. The one that you knew and were looking for was not to be found inside the tomb, but outside the tomb, alive and well, just as he said.
He is risen!
St. Paul, in the letter to Romans chapter 6 affirms this by saying : “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him."
Death, no longer has mastery over him: Do you know why? Because he is the master even over death.
Easter is a proclamation that announces, “O death, meet your true master, the one who ordains life and death!” It is this very same God revealed in Jesus Christ who is our saviour, Lord and God.
This tells us something important, where the world finds death, there Christians find new life. This death could be extended in meaning to death like situations such as a disease, a crumbling of your well-made plans, a breakup of relationships, a loss of finances or even the loss of hope from your life. In such situations, we do not lose hope, because Christ can give us a new life, since he is in control over life and death. As the popular hymn goes, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow; Because he lives, all fear is gone; Because I know… he holds the future, life is worth living just because he lives.”
Therefore Paul defiantly taunts death and the power it thought it had, in 1 Corinthians 15:55 saying: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Eight centuries before Jesus, Hosea had prophesied: I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. (Hosea 13:14, NIV)
And now through Jesus that prophesy has become fulfilled. God kept his Word in Christ Jesus. So Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord is the promise and fulfilment! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” - 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV) Jesus is not a mythical avatar that came, did his miracle and went away. He is a living God who existed from the beginning of time, revealed himself to us in the fulness of time and continues to live, love and invite us to experience the fulness of life in companionship with him through this faith community of Christians which we call the church. This brings us to the second thought.
Resurrection is made an everyday experience through a community of witnesses
“He is not here, he is risen!” said the men in glowing robes.
And what did the women do? They went back from the tomb and went told it to the other disciples, who went and saw that it was true. Later that day, Jesus comes into their midst and interacts with them. It must be said that the disciples who encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ were never the same ever again.
A friend who recently contracted COVID-19 was troubled that he had to stay away from his family. When reminded that the Lord had kept him safe thus far, even as he helped so many COVID patients to get medical help, he said, “I know my God lives. He has a plan.” This is the power of resurrection at work. Even when things do not go well or as expected, the proclamation that “my God lives” is indeed the power of resurrection at work.
Karoline Lewis once said, “Jesus’ definition of eternal life is not limited to our future resurrection.” This means this eternal life is to be taken hold of in the here and the now, in the very situations we find ourselves today.
Every time we rise above our circumstances through faith in our risen Lord, we are living and witnessing to the world around us this resurrection. Every time we extend a helping hand to the ones in need or sacrifice our time to support a brother or sister, we are witnessing and making real this resurrection in our daily life. Every time our eyes fall on the ones who are broken and crushed by the weight of their circumstances or by the evil of our systemic structures, the power of the resurrected Christ is made real in the world around us.
We are living in difficult times, my dear friends. Our faith is being challenged and threatened. The harmony and peace in our communities are being deliberately disturbed. Friends are being turned against each other in the name of religion and religious ideology.
How shall we respond as Christians ? There is only one way my dear friends, by witnessing, testifying and making real the love of Christ to the ones who hate, challenge and corner us. We have nothing to give but the love of the resurrected Christ, who came to give life and life in its fulness. We love boldy, knowing that even if we were to perish in the hands of those who hate us, it is only the love that was shown on the cross that would remain eternal. Death and sin could not defeat God. Instead, resurrection affirms the victory of God, the Kingship of God.
And the best part is that this God has called us to be in a life giving relationship with him.
(Sermon shared through Radio Neeswaram on Easter Day)
Mathews George ( Rev.)
MTh -I Christian Theology
UTC Bengaluru, India