Luke 24:1-12 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series C)
“Looking for the Living One Among the Dead”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 27, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Easter Gospel recorded in Luke 24:
1Now on the first day of the week at earliest dawn they went to the tomb carrying the spices which they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it happened that while they were perplexed concerning this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling clothing. 5Now when the women became frightened and bowed their faces to the ground they said to them, “Why do you seek the living in the company of the dead? 6He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he said to you while he was still in Galilee 7saying that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinful people and to be crucified and on the third day to rise.” 8And they remembered his words. 9And returning from the tomb, they announced all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the rest of the women with them. They told these things to the apostles. 11Yet these words appeared to them like idle talk, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter, getting up, ran to the tomb and stooping to look in, he saw only the linen cloths, and he went away by himself wondering at what had happened.
Have you ever had trouble finding someone’s house? Imagine that you are driving around and you keep looking at your directions or your GPS and peering at street signs and you just can’t find it. You start to become a little frustrated and perhaps even less than charitable toward whoever gave you the directions, positioned the street signs, or programed that stupid electronic device that keeps leading you astray. Then you spot someone walking along the road. So you pull over and ask the person, “Can you tell me where so and so lives? The house is supposed to be right around here somewhere!” The person along the side of the road looks around. All he can see for acres in any direction are tombstones. He doesn’t know what to say because you are looking for the living among the dead!
Do you think you could ever be that lost? Hopefully not! But the Gospel for the Resurrection of Our Lord shows us a group of women looking for the living Jesus in a cemetery, causing an angel to ask the question, “Why do you seek the living in the company of the dead?”
Where should they look for Jesus? On Good Friday they had followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to the tomb. Luke tells us that they “saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:55-56). Where else would they look for Jesus except in the tomb? He had been crucified. He died. He was buried. They didn’t want to leave Jesus’ body in the tomb without the proper burial preparations. So, naturally, they went to the tomb in which Jesus’ dead body was laid.
And what did they find? They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. What didn’t they find? The body of the Lord Jesus! While they were trying to wrap their heads around this, two men, angels, stood by them in dazzling clothing. “Why do you seek the living in the company of the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” The angels said to the women, “Surely you remember what Jesus said to you while He was still in Galilee—that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinful people and to be crucified and on the third day to rise!”
Shouldn’t the women have known better than to come to the tomb on the third day looking for a dead Jesus? Shouldn’t they have known that Jesus would be alive? Jesus had prepared them for this moment as well as anyone could have. Again and again, going all the way back to His ministry in Galilee, Jesus had told His followers that He was going to die and then rise. But they never understood what He was talking about. The failed to grasp the simple sense of His words. After all, who comes back from the dead? At this time in history, almost half of all children died before they reached adulthood. Fevers and infections that you and I cure by taking easily available antibiotics killed people back then. These women had probably done this kind of duty before for people who were close to them. Never had any of those bodies been living again three days after they died.
You and I might sympathize with these women. We’ve been wrong so many times in our lives about so many things, especially spiritual things, that we can totally understand why these women never grasped the promise Jesus made. And yet, they should have known better. Just weeks before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead after four days. Jesus had raised other people too. They should have trusted Jesus’ promise that on the third day He would be risen again and should have come to the tomb in hope. But sin and doubt ruled their minds, and they went to the tomb thinking Jesus was dead.
And are we really so different? We identify with these humble women who did love their Lord. Like them, our faith and trust also doubt and waver. We fail to understand the promises of Jesus. When you and I hurt, when life seems impossible, when death is looking us in the face—our own death or the death of people we love—the natural response for us is simply to try to cope. The natural response is for us to wrap ourselves in sorrow and just focus on the practical needs at hand. We can easily leave Jesus and His promises out of the picture.
When our faith is weak, when we’re dissatisfied, when we feel guilty and unproductive, we might look for Jesus in all the wrong places. So where are we supposed to find Jesus? Exactly where He has promised to be—in the Gospel. Jesus is present in His Word as it preached and taught in its purity. He is to be found in His Sacraments of Holy Baptism, which washed away our sins, and in Holy Communion, where we receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus present with the bread and wine. These are the places where the living Lord Jesus promises to be for us. But that’s not always where we sinners look for Him. We try to find Him in ourselves and in our good works. We look for Him in our feelings and emotions. We feel a need to hear Him speak to us in all the little things that happen to us day after day.
If we go looking for Jesus in these places, it is as if we are looking for the living in the company of the dead. Our hearts are corrupt. They are full of sin and false ideas. Emotions and feelings are fickle and change quickly, giving us no assurances, no guarantees of anything. If we go looking for Jesus there, if we imagine that the Holy Spirit will speak to us in our lives or in our hopes or in being true to ourselves, we’re looking for the living among the dead. The great irony of the resurrection is that Jesus is NOT found where people expect Him to be. Instead, He IS found right where He said He would be: in the Gospel Word. It’s only the hardness of our sinful hearts that wants him to be someplace else.
The angels at the tomb knew that. So they repeated the message Jesus had been telling His disciples ever since they left Galilee, “It is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinful people and to be crucified and on the third day to rise.” If the women and the disciples had understood that message, the weekend of Good Friday through Easter Sunday might have been easier for them to bear, but they didn’t understand. They were sinners just like we are. So when Jesus was crucified, their hearts were broken and they could find no comfort. All they could do was carry on with the concrete tasks at hand—like preparing His body for burial. Jesus’ words were still the power of God, but his followers didn’t understand them because they wanted Jesus to be something different than what He was. They didn’t want to see Him as a man who came here to die.
Yet, that’s exactly why Jesus came—to die! He came to die because our hearts are sinful, because we look for Jesus in all the foolish places our sinful hearts tell us to, because God has to drag us, kicking and screaming, as it were, to His Word and Sacraments. Jesus died because we sinners deserved to die. And when Christ died, He paid for every sin—including ours.
On the third day after His crucifixion, Jesus rose! His resurrection is God’s proof that Jesus did all that He came to do. Jesus’ resurrection proves that He has paid for every sin of every sinner who has ever lived or will ever live. He has paid for your sins and mine. It’s God’s promise that we don’t have any sin left to pay for. Our accounts are now clear. Our record is clean! This will always be true for us. God doesn’t even hold over our heads the sins that we still struggle with or the failures that still torment our hearts. God declares us “not guilty” because Jesus died and rose for us. And God promised in Jesus’ resurrection that we too will rise again. Death cannot hold us anymore. Christ has crippled death. When He comes again, the final enemy, death, will be destroyed and we will live with the Lord forever.
Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus’ tomb is empty. Jesus kept His promise. He suffered and died to win the forgiveness of all our sins. He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. We don’t have to go a cemetery to find Him. We don’t need to tend His grave. Jesus lives, the victory’s won! Because He is the Living One, God guarantees that all our sins are wiped out and forgotten, paid for in full with Jesus’ blood. Because Jesus is alive, God guarantees that we will live with Him forever in resurrected and glorified bodies. And throughout our earthly life, God also guarantees where we can find Jesus, the Living One, and His forgiveness and everlasting life—exactly where our Lord promises to meet us, in His Gospel Word and Sacraments. Amen.