Why Seek The Living Among The Dead?

Continuing our daily lectionary readings for Easter Week, we reach today the resurrection story according to Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 24:1-12) In it, we have one of the most powerful lines delivered in all the accounts. Coming to the tomb at dawn to anoint Jesus’ body properly for burial “the women” encounter two men (not simply the one man, as in Mark, or the angel, as in Matthew, but two men “in dazzling clothes!”). Their question to the women is profound, “Why seek the living among the dead?”

Far from being appreciated for the noble “act of corporal mercy” they were about to perform out of love for Jesus and grief at his loss, the women are gently upbraided for not remembering Jesus’ constant teaching that not even death would remove him, or his influence, from among them.

So, Mary Magdalene, Joanna (not Salome, as in Mark, and Mary the mother of James, perhaps “the other Mary” in Matthew) rush to tell the apostles who refuse to believe it until Peter ran to the tomb, found only the linen cloths, and returned to “mansplain” things to his buddies.

The point is, all of them…and all of us…need to stop seeking the living among the dead. That’s what participants in the “emergent church” movement and perhaps even the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, mean by “the Jesus Movement.” It means that we Christians need to stop defining ourselves primarily by our membership in one of the tens of thousands of denominations which make up the church today, and start defining ourselves as “followers of Jesus” and actually begin doing what he commanded us to do — love God, love our neighbors as ourselves; and actually begin putting that love into action. We will never find the living among the dead!

It means that literalistic readings of the Bible which try to have us wrap our 21st century minds around pre-Copernican, pre-Newtonian, pre-Darwinian, pre-Freudian concepts are doomed to failure. As John Dominic Crossan has said, “The problem is not that the biblical writers wrote literally and we are now smart enough to understand them symbolically, but that they wrote symbolically and we are now stupid enough to try and understand them literally.” We will never find the living among the dead!

One more example: for all you constitutional “originalists” who want to maintain that the Constitution is best understood as a “dead” document the words of which can only be interpreted as the founders would have understood them in their day, rather than seeing it as a living, breathing document which must constantly be interpreted for new challenges, some advice from Luke: Trust me, you will never find the living among the dead!

The point of Easter is that it is much more exciting and challenging it is to serve a risen Lord than a dead hero. Much more exciting and challenging to follow Jesus to Galilee and meet him there than continue to spend all our time taking care of his dead body.

Why seek the living among the dead?

 

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