On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered His words.
When the women who followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem returned to the tomb in which He had been laid after His crucifixion, they were coming to ritually anoint His body with perfumes and spices in accordance with Jewish tradition, having waited through the Sabbath to do so. This was how they would say their final farewell to Him.
However, instead of saying "goodbye", they heard a most miraculous "hello!"
The women were also presented with a question: "why do you look for the living among the dead?"
A Fascinating Question
The question itself fascinates. Superficially, it comes as an unexpected rebuke. Jesus had repeatedly told His disciples what would happen to Him, and where He would be found afterwards. The presence of the women at the tomb to perform the ritual anointings and washings of the deceased, no matter how well intentioned, is proof that they did not listen, or they did not believe Him. Jesus told His disciples repeatedly that He would rise again on the third day, therefore funerary rites would be meaningless.
The question is also rich in metaphor. Throughout His teachings, Jesus makes reference to death and the dead, as when he admonished a would be disciple who wanted to first bury his father according to custom (Luke 9:59-60):
He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”Throughout the Gospel a central theme of Jesus' message is looking forward rather than backward. Tomorrow, we are taught, is far more important than yesterday. The "dead" to Jesus are not merely the remains of the deceased, but also those habits, customs, and traditions which draw our attention away from what is most important--the future.
Thus the question at the tomb is a rebuke of His disciples not merely for not having listened, but also for not having taken to heart this essential principle of His teachings. The women were looking back; Jesus wanted them--and everyone--to look ahead.
The question is also a reminder of timeliness. The Bible teaches that Jesus is alive today. The hope and promise of the future embedded in all of Jesus' teachings is a hope for today, a promise given today. The Resurrection is neither future promise nor past occurrence, but rather constant present reality.
The Living All Around Us
Just as the tomb is the wrong place to look for Jesus, the question makes clear the right place is wherever the living are. Wherever humanity is today, there we are meant to look for Him. It is to the living everywhere that Jesus wants His message of Resurrection and redemption preached (Luke 24:46-47).
He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem...."To be alive to the future, we are called to carry a message of hope for that future to people today. We are called to attend to the living in the here and the now. If we mean to look for Jesus, we are told to look for Him among people today, to seek Him in our communities today.
By posing this question, the angels reminded Jesus' disciples that His is a message meant to reach beyond both tomb and temple, to move the callings and challenges of faith into the larger society. To follow the teachings of Jesus we are told to look for Him among the living human beings all around us.
Looking Ahead Not Behind
Agnostics and skeptics will endlessly debate the scientific implausibility of Jesus' physical Resurrection. They will cite the lack of physical evidences to support the assertion. Their arguments have intellectual merit and the benefit of reason.
Such arguments completely miss the mark. We cannot, at this late date, reach back into antiquity to either prove or disprove the physical Resurrection. We cannot, with physical evidences and application of reason, ascertain to any degree "what really happened." We can accomplish nothing by looking back for proof of the Resurrection. Resurrection is a challenge of faith--one either believes or one does not believe. There is no third option.
We do not need such proof, however, to see that humanity is present reality, not past occurrence. We do not need evidence of the Resurrection to see the impact redemption and forgiveness have today in the lives of people from all faiths. We have the evidence of our own eyes of this already. What more is needed?
The miracle of Easter Sunday is the Resurrection, and with it the redemption of all mankind. The message of Easter Sunday is that to be alive, we must celebrate life, and we must celebrate with the living. We must lift up the living even as we mourn the dead, and mark their passing. We must look ahead. We must not look behind.
The teaching of Easter Sunday is simply this: Do not look for the living among the dead.