Living Among the Dead

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

Why are you looking for life among places where there is only death?

Why are you looking for light in total darkness?

Why are you looking in all the wrong places?

Those questions all barraged me when I sat down and reflected on our gospel reading. As Luke tells the story, these disciples of Jesus who happened to be of the female persuasion, were heading to the tomb of their Lord. They were bearing spices and oils to anoint and properly lay his body to rest.

They weren’t looking for the living at all. Their light, their life, their hope had died on the cross with Jesus. They were looking for a dead man.

Why are you looking for the living among the dead?

I find that question strange, because they weren’t! These faithful few were coming to the tomb to honor Jesus. They were coming to pay their respects. They were coming because that’s what you do for people you love. It was a duty for them… in the very best sense of the word.

They came to the tomb and they couldn’t even possibly begin to imagine that life, new life, resurrection life was waiting for them.

Two years ago, on Easter Sunday, I shared with all of you one of my favorite stories. It is called “Hope for the Flowers.” And it is about looking for life in all of the wrong places.

In the story, there is a little caterpillar named Stripe and he is looking for something, but he isn’t quite sure what it is. He was happy for a while, but now he is restless… he knows that there is something more out there. One day, he comes across this mound, heap, mountain of other caterpillars. They are all climbing on top of one another, trying to get as high as they possibly can. There are rumors that there is something wonderful at the top of this pile. So Stripe joins in the climb. He is yearning for what is at the top, even though he doesn’t know what it is. And along the way, he makes some terrible, terrible choices. He hurts others. He pushes them out of the way. He has to stop himself from looking in their eyes so he doesn’t feel so bad about what he is doing.

Stripe was looking for life in the midst of the dead. He was looking for life among things that were actually sucking the life right out of him.

The women who went to the tomb had just spent a day and a half weeping and mourning. They felt like all of the hope and light and joy in the world had just been sucked right out of them. And so they went to the tomb to mourn, to weep, to honor, and to say their goodbyes.

And you know what… if those angels hadn’t appeared to ask them a simple question, that is where their lives would have stayed. They would have looked for the dead, found an empty tomb, and gone home in utter despair.

We live our lives that way too often. We look for life among the dead. We seek happiness and wholeness in all of the wrong places. We then we are content with being discontented.

Why are we looking for the living among the dead? Why are we looking for our Lord and Savior among the dead and dying things of this world?

That question keeps coming back to me.

For those women on Easter morning, it was a tomb that they clung so closely to. It was a tomb that kept them from being out in the world where they would find the Risen Christ.

What is it with you?

What are the dead and dying things that you hold on to that keep you from finding the Living One?

For one woman I taught in a bible study, it was her King James Bible. She had been given the bible when she was in third grade and it was the only bible that she had ever owned. She had been told it was the only version of the bible that was acceptable. But you know what? She couldn’t understand what was written in her bible. My friend could only read at the 9th grade level… not to mention the fact that the language used in that translation is so dead and foreign that she couldn’t make any sense of it. She faithfully struggled to read the words in that old Bible of hers, but she couldn’t understand it and so she couldn’t find Jesus in there.

For a colleague of mine, it was his business. For years, he had worked in the corporate world and had purchased his own company. He climbed and climbed to the top, seeking success and power and telling himself that when he got to the top he could enjoy life. But he only found a longing that he couldn’t quite fulfill.

Where is the dead place that you keep looking for new life?

What is it that we as a church are holding on to that keeps us from coming face to face with new and abundant life?

In my two years here, I have heard quite a few answers to that question. We would have new life in our church if only we… This church would grow if … Are we looking in the right places? Are we looking for life – new life – life abundant at all?

If we go back to the story of our sad little caterpillar, Stripe, we find that he is stuck in this endless climb of despair and defeat. But then, one day, he sees something that makes his heart stop. He sees a butterfly. Stripe catches a glimpse, a possibility of something he can’t quite understand and he decides to lay aside this life of climbing, to let go of everything that he thought he knew and he decides to do something very strange. He finds his way to a quiet branch, far away from the piles of caterpillars and he builds himself a cocoon, he dies to the world as he knew it… and on the other side of that cocoon, he finds fullness, new life, as a butterfly.

Stripe was looking for life in the midst of the dead. Until he stopped looking. Until he crawled back out into the world that he was born into and he decided to let go and take a leap of faith and try something new. And new life found him.

This week, I have thought a lot about why we need the resurrection. Why does it matter that there is new life in Jesus? He died for our sins, isn’t that enough?

A friend reminded me that we need the resurrection, we need that glimpse of the butterfly, so that we don’t go back to the tombs, the places of death and hopelessness in our lives and live them over and over and over again.

When those women at the tomb recognized the truth – that their Lord was no longer dead but was alive – JOY flooded their hearts. They couldn’t keep quiet about what they had heard! Their mourning turned into dancing!

When my friend in Bible study realized that the King James bible wasn’t the only one that was available to her… when she picked up a translation that was more appropriate for her reading level – an entire new world of the scriptures opened up for her… she found the living Jesus on the pages of her bible speaking to her, making sense, giving her hope for her life.

When my colleague, went to church one Sunday, he was moved by the Holy Spirit and caught a glimpse of another life that awaited him. He went home and put his business up for sale and he enrolled in seminary.

This morning, I want to invite us to take a courageous leap of faith. I want to invite each of us to come down off of the heaps and mountains that we have been climbing, to come away from the dead and barren places where we have been seeking, and to try something new.

Today, we officially begin a journey towards new life.

Some time ago, Jill Sanders, our Field Outreach Minister invited us to participate in a process called Co-Missioned. It is a two to three year journey where we will discover what God is doing in our midst, we will listen for where God is calling us next, and then we will lay aside our old life as a church and learn to live out God’s will for our community.

Maybe a good way of describing this process is to think a little bit about our caterpillar Stripe. This journey is a lot like climbing up onto a branch and building a cocoon – not knowing what exactly we will look like on the other side.

But we have the faith to do so, because we have already seen butterflies. We have the faith to trust in God and to let go of our baggage and ideas and ways of doing things because we have seen God’s amazing and transforming resurrection power.

The hard part is that it means some things will have to die. Stripe the caterpillar was no more after he entered the cocoon. And we will have to let go of some dead and lifeless things of our own. We may have to set aside age old arguments and grievances. We might have to rip out old carpet – both literally and figuratively. We might say goodbye to old ways of doing things. We might say goodbye to new ways of doing things that just aren’t the right fit for us. We might have to let dried-up attitudes fall by the wayside. We might need to let bad habits of not coming to church regularly or of not using all of our gifts and talents die.

It is scary… but it is also exciting… and I hope you will also hear that we are among good company.

Because as our gospel story continues on for this morning, we find that there are some disciples who have left Jerusalem. They have left behind what was lost and dead and abanadoned and they set out on a road unknown. These disciples know what the next stop on their journey will be, but they aren’t quite sure what awaits them beyond that. But they set out anyways.

And on this journey, on the familiar road of Emmaus – something amazing happens. Out there in the world, and not in some quiet somber graveyard, they find the risen Lord.

He asks them a question.  “What have you been conversing about?” 

So they talk.  And they chat.  And for the life of them, they can’t figure out who this strange man is. But they share with him what they know and what they hoped for and what they are seeking now.

And when they stop for some food, and Christ breaks the bread before them – they realize that they have been traveling with Christ all along.

So let us travel on this journey together.  Let us have conversations and let us tell stories.  And let us break bread together.  Because here at this table, our eyes are opened and we see the living Christ who has been with us all along.

Come on the journey.  Lay aside the past.  Take up the future.  There are butterflies waiting!

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