They had every good reason to go to the garden tomb. They never suspected they’d find anything different from what they expected – the body of Jesus, wrapped in the linen cloth Joseph had brought when he took it down from the cross. They had seen it all with their own eyes, these women who had followed him so faithfully from Galilee.
They had watched Jesus as he died on the cross. They heard his final words as he gave himself over to God. They held their breath as he took his last. They witnessed the Roman centurion who came to belief and praised God when he realized the death of innocence had taken place. And these women were there when his body was laid in the tomb just as it ought to be, so they could return to this place of the dead when it was permissible, after the Sabbath, to finish his proper burial.
They had seen it all with their own eyes. They had no reason to expect to find anything but what they had left behind before their fitful day of rest. And in some strange way, I imagine at least, they looked forward to coming back to that place of the dead where they knew what to expect, where they could DO SOMETHING about what had happened even if it was dressing Jesus’ body for death. They looked forward to coming back to the tomb where they would at least be close to him because figuring out what to do without him was just still too hard that early.
Their world had crumbled around them. A mother they knew was mourning her son, which is never the natural order of things. There were students who had lost their teacher, disciples who had lost their master, people of faith who had lost God in their very midst. Their world was tumbling down around them, because the world had won. The perplexed and terrified establishment had squelched what it did not understand. The oppressive empire had put down the threat of rebellion. The life an innocent man, a good and holy and righteous man, a gracious and loving and compassionate man, a man who walked in the way of God, who loved with the heart of God, who healed with the touch of God, truly a man who was God, had been stolen, and so their world had crumbled around them. The world out there had won.
It’s not hard to imagine what they were feeling. We know about worlds that have crumbled We know about the still-open wounds, tender and hurting wounds, of those who have lost jobs or struggle to make ends meet in this economic climate, of those who have lost loved ones too soon, before the natural order of things has taken place, of those who battle depression or addiction, of those who grieve over relationships that have been strained beyond the breaking point. We know about the indiscriminant nature of earthquakes and floods. We know now that years of ignoring people in poverty can lead to mind-boggling devastation and corruption. We know about abuse, verbal, physical, and sexual, that can leave lives in confused ruins.
And we know that sometimes it feels like the tombs of despair are the only places we belong anymore because it just seems like this hopelessness is all there is anymore. The tombs, the places of death, seem like the only place we can dwell. The mindset and attitude of acceptance seems like the only way we can respond to the world that crumbles around us. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? If you can’t stave off the grief and the death and the dearth of hope, you might as well just go to the middle of it all, and get yourself ready to exist with it as the norm.
They had every good reason to go to the garden tomb. They never suspected they’d find anything different from what they expected. They had seen it all with their own eyes, but when they arrived they found something completely unexpected, or really the found NOTHING that they expected. They came looking for the evidence of the death they had witnessed. They came to play the hand they had been dealt. They came to do the only thing they could imagine doing, but they discovered what they never imagined to see.
Death was gone! Jesus’ body no longer lay where they had seen it lay before. They went to the place of hopelessness, and somehow hopelessness was no longer there! “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the two strangers asked the terrified women. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Why do you come to this tomb, this place of death, this place of grief as if it were the end of the story? Why do you come to dwell in the midst of what seems like a hopeless situation when he told you it would be different?
Why do we read the newspapers, watch TV, replay our own stories over and over and over again in our heads as if they are the final story that will get told? Why do we return to these experiences of pain and suffering and believe that they hold the ultimate power in our lives or in the world? Why do we believe or at least live as if we believe that all hope is lost, God is dead, and evil has the final word?
He told the women it wouldn’t end like this. He told us. He told them he would rise again, and we have heard that he has. He is not there in the tomb among the dead. He is living. He is living hope. He is alive!
The resurrection promises us we don't have to keep going back to the places of the dead to look for some sort of false comfort there, to harden ourselves to what is happening and just muddle on through the life before us and the world around us. Jesus, the living one, was not among the dead, and the women discovered they didn't need to go back to the tomb. Likewise, we don't need to, and really shouldn't get sucked into hopelessness because he lives, and if he can overcome death and the tomb, then there is hope for all of this, there is hope for all of us.
It doesn’t mean we forget these things exist. It doesn’t mean we forget the losses in our lives or ignore suffering in our community and around the world. It doesn’t mean that the tomb never held the beaten and broken body of the innocent man. Those things exist; the pain they cause is real. But because of the resurrection, because he is among the living, we don’t need to go back to the tombs, and live them over and over. We don’t have to dwell in hopelessness, looking for comfort where none is to be found. The empty tomb that the women found means miraculously, graciously, that these places of death and hopelessness aren’t where the story ends.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus, the light of the world, Jesus the Messiah, the chosen one of God, Jesus, God who came to dwell among us, is not dead in the tomb. He has risen. He is alive. He is hope where we thought there was none. He is life where there was death. He is love and grace and mercy where it seemed that anger and jealousy and suspicion had won out.
And because we know this, because we have heard of his life beyond death, we have a job to do, a call to answer, a call to go find this life. We have a call to go out from the gardens of death and be a part of Jesus’ living, breathing, transforming life in the world. We have a call to point to resurrection moments when we see them, resurrection experiences when we have them, and declare, “He IS here! He has risen!’ We have a call to look at the new green sprouts that are springing up from the dead earth, we have a call to rejoice at every person rescued from the rubble in Haiti, we have a call to point to the faith and commitment of youth who give up their vacation to serve the forgotten in the Gulf, we have a call revel in the beauty of songs sung, hymns played, art and creativity shared and declare with full voice, “He is here! He has risen!”
And we have a call to join this resurrection life ourselves. We have a call to be a part of bringing his life to the world, be a part of God’s work that is going on all around us if we just open our eyes to see it, if we just open our ears to listen for it, if we just open our calendars and our lives to participate in it. We have a call to rise above the terror we face when we find ourselves in the places of death because the good news has already been shared; it has already been let loose in the world – He is not here, but has risen! Let us go find and join his life in the world! Alleluia!