“Why do you Look for the Living among the Dead?” Luke 24:1-12
A story is told by Frederick Nietzsche, the German existentialist philosopher, writing of a madman who charges into the marketplace of a medieval village, leaps onto the steps of the cathedral, and shouts to the crowd, "I want a requiem mass! I want a requiem mass! I want a requiem mass!" Now, for those of you who grew up in less liturgical tradition, a requiem mass is a funeral service. As the madman shouts his demand for a requiem mass, the crowd answers back. “Why have a requiem? Who has died?" "God has died," cries the madman. "God is dead!" When the crowd mocks his seemingly absurd announcement of the death of God, the madman retorts, "Well, if God is not dead, then why have the churches become mortuaries?" (from Tony Campolo, Carpe Diem, p.29)
That reminds me of the old story about the 911 call reporting that someone had a heart attack and died in a church service. The EMTs arrived just minutes after the call came in and hurried into the sanctuary with their stretcher and their monitors. They had to carry out two-dozen people before they found the dead person.
Well, friends, Nietzsche's belief that God is dead is not all that uncommon in the world today. Nor is the impression that churches are deadly. So I’m going to start out this Easter Sunday morning by asking you some yes or no questions! And I want you ALL to answer…
Do we believe that God is dead? (People respond :NO)
Is this a church filled with death or with life? (LIFE)
Is God alive? (YES)
Does the living God make a difference in your life? Is Christ risen?( YES)
Is there pain in the world? (YES)
But does pain have the last word? (NO)
Is there suffering in the world? (YES)
Does suffering have the last word? (NO)
Is there death in the world? (YES)
Does death have the last word? (NO)
Is Christ risen? (YES)
(OK…now we better settle down before all of our Easter visitors questions what denomination of a church we are!!)
It is true that the world is a hard place and that sometimes all of that hardness can just sap the strength of life right out of a soul. One of the my favorite Lenten movies is Chocolat. In case you haven’t seen it, in the movie, a young woman comes to a small French town, mystically arriving ala Mary Poppins accompanied by a strong wind. She opens a small chocolate shop She arrives at the beginning of Lent and opens her shop against the advice of the town's mayor, who rigidly and righteously enforces the traditional rules of the church regarding abstinence from sweets during this season of penitence. But we soon learn that the rules are about more than chocolate.
The rules repress the life of the village, the freedom to be joyful, to give and receive love, to be creative, to embrace change. But the young woman, named Vianne, persists and slowly her chocolates work magic in the village, bringing courage to the timid, love to the unloved, hope to the despairing, and even faith to the young priest.
Finally the mayor decides to destroy the chocolate shop. So on Easter Eve he sneaks into the shop intent on destruction, but the chocolates…the chocolates look so good, smell so good, and one taste won't matter…but one taste leads to another, and soon the mayor is rolling in the chocolate and weeping as he realizes that over the years he has allowed his soul to die, and there in the chocolate-induced stupor of his binge, he experiences resurrection. He falls asleep in the window of the chocolate shop, covered in chocolate… and as the sun rises on Easter morning, the bells ring out their joyful song…"Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!"
The moral of the movie Chocolat is that life is for living, not dying, and that despite the best efforts of a hard and cold world, life always triumphs over death. Chocolat is an Easter story. It pronounces a harsh judgment on any faith that would kill the spirit of life that God has placed in people. Rejoice in the goodness of life! Christ is risen!
A few years ago in February a terrible earthquake struck India, in a town called Gujarat. Of course, many destructive natural events have happened since then but in regard to this particular one there is a story to tell. At the time, I have no doubt saw pictures of the destruction and devastation on TV – of the buildings that collapsed, trapping people inside and maybe more. It was reported that more than 20,000 people died in that earthquake.
For the first few hours and days… those who were able helped the military, the police, and the foreign emergency response teams to dig through the rubble…searching….searching for any sign of life….listening for a cry or a moan… but the hours of searching for survivors turned into days, and soon fewer and fewer survivors were being pulled from the wreckage.
After a week had passed… many were giving up the search for survivors.
But two weeks after the earthquake…the news showed a poignant image…a young woman, exhausted and weak, was relentlessly picking up pieces of rubble from what once was a school. "Why do you do this?" she was asked. "Because I have hope of finding someone alive," she answered. "You still have hope after two weeks?" "Without hope," she said, "we are nothing." She believed she might discover a miracle. She thought she might find the living among the dead.
When the women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with their spices, they went looking for the dead among the dead. But the body, we’re told, wasn't there. It was gone. In its place was a message from God. “Why do you look for the Living Among the Dead?” That was the question the messengers of God asked the terrified women that morning so long ago outside of the tomb. The women weren't expecting to find the living among the dead. Jesus was crucified and dead and all that awaited him was the burial of the body. The women didn't come to the tomb expecting to find a living Christ. They sought only a dead prophet. They were looking for the dead among the dead.
And what do you look for in your life? Are you looking for a dead prophet or for a living Christ? The Christian faith must be a faith that seeks a living Lord and not a dead prophet. If it fails to celebrate and seek a living Christ, a God present and active in the world, then we have completely missed the message of this day…this Easter day!
Someone once said something very odd to me. He said that he enjoyed coming to memorial services here at the church I was serving at the time. I said, "You're weird…who enjoys memorial services." But he replied. "No. Really. You put fun into funerals!" At first that sort of took me back, but after I thought about that a bit… this thought came into my mind… “Why not?” After all, we don't come to memorial services expecting to find the dead. We come expecting to find the living! And Hallelujah to that!
But we can come with such incredible expectation because of Easter
day! "Because I live," Jesus says, "you shall live also!" That promise is the very heart of the Easter message and the Christian faith. We believe in life. We believe in hope. We believe we will find the living among the dead. And if we can experience life in the midst of death, then surely we can find triumph in the midst of defeat, strength in the midst of weakness, justice in the midst of injustice, riches in the midst of poverty, joy in the midst of despair.
Skeptics will say, "No, you can't, because none of that makes any sense at all. Your religion is simply a weak attempt to make sense of the absurdness of life. It is a crutch to make feel better about your finitude. Don't you know that we live, and we die, and if there ever was a God, he is long gone from here?"
But to the skeptics I say, "I have seen resurrection and new life." I have seen it in the lives of people just like you who in searching for God and meaning, have found it in simple things…like love and relationships…like beauty and creativity…like forgiveness and acceptance. And I have seen it in the darkest of days, when hope streamed like a sunrise after a long night. If you open your eyes to the possibility of Easter, you will see life all around you, even in the midst of death.
So the question today for each one of us is this: "Are you willing to risk believing in the possibility of Easter?"
There’s a legend about Siddhartha when he was a boy. He had heard that there was a great guru who lived high up in the mountains and knew more about God than any other teacher or prophet. Siddhartha set out to find this guru, and when he did he asked him, "How can I find God?" The guru did not immediately answer. Instead, he asked the young Siddhartha to follow him. He led the boy to the edge of lake, and unexpectedly and violently, grabbed the head of Siddhartha and shoved it under water. Siddhartha tried to escape the strong grip of the guru, but to no avail; even when the strength that comes from the panic of drowning set in, he could not break free from the guru's grasp. Just when it seemed as though his lungs would burst, the guru pulled Siddhartha up from the water. He gasped to regain his breath. And just as he was about to cry out against the guru for what he had done to him, the guru raised his hand to silence the boy. Then he said softly to Siddhartha, "When you want God as much as you have just wanted breath, you will find him!"
Sometimes my friends, it takes a crisis to discover Easter. When we most need new life, in those moments of fear and despair and panic, when we believe we can bear the burdens of this life no longer, when we have gone to the garden to bury our faith and confront our own mortality and the mortality of those whom we love, that is when Easter will come to us in powerful ways and we will know the truth that Christ is risen and we are risen with him.
Once upon a time I did a funeral for a man who told before he died that he came to faith in a fox hole. A friend of his slept through a night filled with explosions and death. In the morning, he asked his friend, how could you sleep in the midst all of that. And the friend said, "I just turned it all over to God
and knew it would be OK." There in the midst of death, this man found life.
And his life changed from that day on…
You see, once we have made the leap of faith that echoes God's message, that we will find life in the midst of death, then our entire life is reordered. Easter changes everything. It changes the way we approach our day, the way we look at our neighbors, the way we give thanks and praise, the way we live and the way we die – that is, if we truly believe.
A story is told of a priest in an east European village, who one day summoned the townspeople to the village square. He said he had an important announcement. The people grumbled loudly at the inconvenience, and grudgingly gathered.
· A merchant resented having to leave his business.
· A wife complained because she had so many errands to run.
· But, out of respect, they went, somewhat unwillingly, to the square.
When all were present, the priest said only five words: "God is in the world." Then he walked away. But the people understood. They knew they had been acting as if God was not in the world. Don't you see, friends, if God is this world, if we truly believe in Easter, then everything changes.
Once a long time ago, some women went to a tomb expect to find death. They found life instead. They found that God was in the world and would be forever.
Today is Easter, a day when we celebrate the presence of God in our midst, alive and well, turning despair to hope, and proclaiming life in the midst of death! Christ is risen, my friends! Christ is risen indeed!
If you have a CHILDREN'S TIME today - have an egg-shaped container - as large as possible (craft shops sell egg-shaped moulds) - paint or cover outside with paper so that inside is unseen. Put a sheet of paper inside with the word 'love' printed as big as possible on it. Ask the children what they may have eaten a lot of today already or will eat when they get home - chocolate eggs will no doubt feature highly! Then invite them to look at the egg you have and ask what might be in the egg... Open and unfold paper to show the word 'love'. Then explain that Jesus was prepared to die and have his body put in a tomb because he wanted to show us that love is stronger than evil. Eggs have come to be a symbol of Easter because eggs remind us of the tomb, which contained not death, but life - contained the news that Jesus was alive again in a very special way. We receive gifts of eggs on Easter Day, and before long, they're gone, finished, but Jesus gives us a very special gift, the gift of his love and his life and they last for ever.
The Pastoral Prayer
Almighty and Ever-Living God,
Here we gather to marvel at the mystery and majesty of Christ's resurrection. We have come to hear again the story—to live again the story—of your resurrecting power.
You came to Mary in the garden, turning her tears into surprising joy.
You came to the disciples by the lakeside, turning their failure into faith.
You came to the ones walking the Emmaus Road, turning their despair into hope.
And now you come to us in our frailty and shame, turning our weakness into triumph.
We confess that too often we fail to see your work of resurrection in the world. The fresh beauty of early spring. The quiet rhythm of an infant heartbeat. The sweet forgiving flavor of bread and wine. Yes, open our eyes even wider. Open all of our senses to see, to taste, to touch your miraculous beauty.
On this beautiful morning, we pray for all who need your gift of Easter…For all who journey from illness to health, from despair to hope, from grief to consolation, from loneliness to love. We pray today for all our brothers and sisters who are not able to be here with us this day, but whose lives are entwined in some fashion with those of us here. Especially we lift to you those whom we have mentioned in our earlier time of concerns… May they know your presence and your power in their lives this day of resurrection; May they know and experience your Easter presence.
God of all life and goodness, we thank you for the mystery planted within us, the paradox of life from death. We praise you for the dying which saves us from death and for the rising which brings us life. And so we pray—as we live—through Jesus Christ, the Risen . . . in the words he taught , “Our father who art in heaven…” Amen.
CHILDREN’SMESSAGE: A Real Easter Egg
Objects: An empty egg shell (puncture at each end and blow out the white and yolk) that has been decorated. This can also be done with plastic eggs, but it isn't as effective.
Theme: Jesus is risen and the tomb is empty!
Scriptures: He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6
There are many things that remind us of Easter. There are flowers, chocolate Easter bunnies, and pretty Easter baskets. One thing that all of us think of when we think of Easter is Easter eggs. How many of you have ever been on an Easter egg hunt? Have you ever wondered why we use the egg to represent Easter?
When a mother hen sits on her eggs for a few weeks, do you know what happens? That's right, in a few weeks the eggs begin to crack open and little baby chick come out. An egg means new life. It reminds us that there is a new life inside that can come out. We celebrate Easter Sunday because that is the day that Jesus came out of the grave and He was alive.
This morning I have brought what I call a real Easter egg. I will show you why I call it a real Easter egg. (break the empty egg shell) This egg is empty. That is why I call it a real Easter egg. It reminds me that on Easter Sunday, when Jesus' followers went to His tomb, the tomb was empty. An angel was there to tell them, "He is not here; He has risen, just as He said."The grave is empty, Jesus isn't in there. He is alive, and because He is alive, we too can have a new life in Him.
Dear Lord, today we celebrate the empty grave. We thank you that Jesus is not in the grave. He is risen, and because of that, we can have new life in Him. Amen.
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