Sunday, April 4, 2010

Somewhere Else

The men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24.5-6)

Keeping Tabs

Amid their abject mourning for Jesus and sorting out what’s exactly happened over the last 72 hours, Christ’s followers also deal with numerous anxieties of a critically urgent nature. They are far from home, trapped in a city that violently turned on their Rabbi at the instigation of authorities who conspired to kill Him. They fear for their lives. No one who might help them safely escape Jerusalem can be trusted. Already, they’ve lost control of the Lord’s body, which they must take with them to properly re-bury in Nazareth. Fearing removal of the corpse from its borrowed tomb will fuel rumors of resurrection, Jesus’s enemies have arranged for a Roman sentry to stand guard around the clock. This cuts off any possibility of sneaking out of town overnight.

Much as it pains me to point out, the disciples respond to these problems along gender-typical lines. The men hunker down “with the doors locked for fear of the Jews.” (John 20.19) They can’t do anything until they get their bearings. But the women—ah, the women—have greater concerns than personal safety and exit strategies. Keeping tabs on Christ’s body is most important to them. They’ve just seen sadistic injustices committed against His person. They have zero faith His remains will be treated respectfully until He reaches His final resting place. It is they who follow Joseph of Arimathea to learn exactly where he buries Jesus. According to Luke, they use the little time left before Sabbath to prepare spices and perfumes to ready Christ’s body for removal on Sunday morning. The longer they hide in Jerusalem, the less likely this will be feasible. As dawn breaks, they’re dressed and headed to the tomb, hoping for the best—they’ll find His body unmolested and be allowed to move Him—but fearing the worst. Nearing the tomb, their hearts break. It’s even worse than they imagined.

Remember?

The guard has fled the scene. The unattended tomb has been pried open, its heavy stone pushed completely to the side, indicating the work of a several men. Without stepping into the crypt, they know Jesus’s body is gone. But their anguish turns to chilling horror when they find His grave clothes left behind. Somewhere, Christ’s naked body is the centerpiece of a macabre celebration, the butt of a grotesque joke, or the victim of a final degradation contrived by His enemies. The confluence of emotions—gut-wrenching grief, panic, terror, and disgust—unleashes a bottomless sea of wails. The women fall upon one another, trying in vain to support each other. They crumble to the tomb floor. So engulfing is their sorrow a moment passes before they sense they’re not alone.

They look up to see “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning.” (Luke 24.4) Before the women can collect their thoughts to see if the strangers can tell them what’s happened to Jesus, the men ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” They know the women are looking for Jesus and why not finding Him overwhelms them with grief. “He isn’t here,” they say. “He has risen!” (v6) Risen? The consternation on the women’s faces begs further explanation. “Remember?” the messengers respond. “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” (v6-7) Clarity breaks through their overcast spirits. Christ’s voice stirs in the sleepy hollows of their memory. In their mindfulness of religious burial conventions, they’d let His assurance slip from their thoughts. “Then they remembered his words,” Luke writes in verse 8.

In the Now

Today we rejoice in the greatest day in human history. We make our pilgrimage to the tomb not to find Christ, but to confirm He isn’t there. By the time we arrive, He’s somewhere else—alive among the living, no longer paralyzed by the past, but forever present in the now. Although we approach the grave fully expecting to see it torn open, with Christ gone, His grave clothes piled on the plinth, and angelic messengers to inform us that He has risen, we also need our memories shaken. If all we take from Easter is the promise of new life, we come away with nothing. Easter isn’t about promises but realities. Its message can only be found among the living, not the dead. People and places entombed by doubt and logic, religious legalism and convention, irrational fear and hatred exist. But they're not alive. They’re shrouded in the past and ossified behind heavy stones of false pride and power, lifeless in darkness hidden by ornate architecture. None of this moves us, however, because we don't linger in cemeteries. We only pass this way to remember new life is already ours. We belong with the living, not the dead—in the now, not the past.

In Romans 8.11, we read, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The power of resurrection is alive and resides in each of us. We defy death every day, not merely in the physical sense, but also in our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual lives. We cannot be defeated by deadly influences, feelings, and ideas—or the torments they inflict. We are first, foremost, and always alive.

By all means, we honor the Easter women’s sacred intentions. Still, they got it wrong. They forgot Christ's teaching. They succumbed to the conventional notion that preserving His remains in a safe place would keep the memory of Jesus alive. But the Spirit of resurrection alive in Christ would not allow Him to be sealed in the past. Defeat was impossible. That’s why the women arrived at the tomb to learn He was already somewhere else, alive among the living, alive in the now. May the same Spirit of resurrection that lives in every one of us grant us the power to follow Him.

With prayers for a joyously alive Easter to each of you.

We pass by the empty tomb to remind us Jesus is somewhere else—alive among the living, alive in the moment. And we follow Him there.

Postscript: Easter Alive

If you’ve never celebrated Easter in a large Pentecostal church, I strongly advise adding it to your list of “must-do” sacred experiences. At some point, the choir invariably breaks out an up-tempo selection very much like this “Church Medley” of age-old “testimony songs” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. And, oh my, the rejoicing begins! From side-to-side, front-to-back not a soul can doubt they’ve found the risen Christ among the living, in the now. Enjoy!


CHURCH MEDLEY


I call on Jesus, a Wonderful Counselor

Oh, glory hallelujah

Oh, glory hallelujah

Glory hallelujah to the Risen King


Living, He loved me

Dying, He saved me

Buried, He carried my sins far away

Rising, He justified

Freed me forever

One day He's coming back

O glorious day


Oh, glory hallelujah...


Send it on down, Lord

Send it on down

Lord, let the Holy Ghost come on down


We can't do nothing

"Til you send it down

Lord, let the Holy Ghost come on down


Oh, glory hallelujah...

2 comments:

claire said...

That’s why the women arrived at the tomb to learn He was already somewhere else, alive among the living, alive in the now.

The power of resurrection is alive and resides in each of us. We defy death every day, not merely in the physical sense, but also in our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual lives.

Ah, Tim, I cannot highlight all that with which I agree in your post! Your whole post would be in the comment box.

Another great post! Thank you.

Happy Easter, Tim!

Tim said...

Claire, I can only answer your magnanimity with a big sigh of relief! After the detail-heavy posts of the past few days, this felt a tad on the light side. But now that I say that, it seems OK. Since the resurrection rules out natural logic and science, shouldn't it be clearer to us? It's all there, self-contained and ready to be understood. We just have to keep reminding ourselves to remember...

Happy Easter to you, too!

Blessings always,
Tim