10 Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?
Today's celebration of the glory of the risen Christ centers on a question that appears only in Luke, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?" The operative word in this expression, for me, is "seek"; and it is the subject of seeking that will occupy our attention for the next few minutes. We will talk about why we seek, how we seek and where we seek. We will once again emphasize that it is attention--attention of the WILL on the supernatural dimension of existence--that reveals spiritual truth to the mundane mind, raising the physical into the spiritual; the Word to flesh, flesh to spirit.
Perhaps the linking of the ATTENTION to the WORD is of more significance than we have yet realized. Perhaps the focus of the "attention of the Will on the Word" is the defining action that calls into being a place (a place!) for flesh and spirit to meet; this attention of the Will creates a meeting place because the consciousness of the Will is super-literal, and can therefore assimilate the power of the spiritual Word with even greater clarity and precision than the mundane mind. This "place" is therefore outside time, but still connected to a kind of vaguely (or slightly) articulated literalness that offers an entry into a small corner of the human mind without submitting to the human minds' limitations. Perhaps the human mind, seeking beyond the limits of the literal consciousness, raises ITSELF to a higher plane of consciousness, and therefore can glimpse the vastness of the Divine Word through the Will, which may be thought of as Man's tiny piece of eternity? Perhaps we are talking about very small increments of increase on a continuum that stretches into infinity?
But more on this later. Now the scriptures.
[Notice that we have returned to the Synoptic Gospels for this, and, although Luke is the only one with the line, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?", the other two gospels mention something else I want to consider for a bit--you guessed it: angels.]
"1Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. 3And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: 5And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, 7Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. 8And they remembered his words, 9And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest."St. Matthew 28:1-6
"1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. 2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. 3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: 4 and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said."
St. Mark 16:1-6
"And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him."
"Behold the place where they laid Him." The place where they laid him is a place of death. The living would never remain amid the mouldering stench of the dead. Dead is dead. Why are you looking--because you want life too, right? because you saw something held out to you in loving hands that completed you, that gave you back to yourself, that made you free, free from yourself, free to be your own vast universe, that's why. And now you are seeking that in a place of death? Get real! Think about it. If dead is dead, let's go look for a party, let's get some light!
The following is taken from Sermon #108. The Resurrection (Luke 24:1-12) by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson:
How do you talk matter-of-factly about an event so mind-boggling as the raising of a person from the dead, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Hollywood would use special effects to impact the viewer. Novelists would employ powerful prose. But the Scripture just tells the story of the disciples, both male and female, as they discover this unexpected and life-jolting joy. And the Scripture tells it simply, clearly, and convincingly. The historicity of the Resurrection is crucial to the Christian faith. Our own eternal future hinges on this question. Paul writes in (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17, 19):
"And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
[Sidebar: Here again we see this tendency to validate the divinity of Jesus through the power of miracles. We have often extolled the power of parables, and myths, why not the power of miracles? I generally resist the attractions of phenomena, I try to take the spiritual world so much for granted that nothing miraculous, that ever happens to me, is ever surprising (however wonderful); but one possible virtue in attaching inordinate significance to miracles occurs to me: you have to have faith in tales of miracles because they are something you didn't see directly; if you had witnessed them directly, you wouldn't have to have faith; faith is the evidence of things NOT seen, not things seen. When higher reality is visible and accessible to direct experience, faith is unnecessary. Furthermore, the discipline of SEEKING higher levels of attention makes such direct experiences more and more available. I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote that says it all in a nutshell:
“I don’t have to have faith, I have experience.”
This reminds me of the Luther sermon about John the Baptist: he is not a prophet foretelling the coming of the Messiah, he is the herald, the very trumpet call announcing the living Human presence of the Messiah. All the little miracles of life add up into the one big miracle, all made possible because Heaven came down to Earth and delivered us from illusion.]
Back to Ralph Wilson:
"Each of the Gospel writers adds specific details to the story of the resurrection. Occasionally, it is hard to understand just how all these details fit together. But we're studying Luke's account, so I won't try to weave in everything included in Matthew, Mark, and John. For example, Luke doesn't mention the Roman soldiers who guarded the tomb (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15). We'll focus on Luke's telling of the story. Perhaps you've heard the story of Jesus' resurrection all your life. Pray now, and then seek to read and study it as if for the first time. Let its truth touch your heart afresh.
The Women Come to the Tomb (24:1)
"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." (24:1)
The first day of the week for Jews, of course, was the day after the Sabbath -- Sunday. This is the third day (24:7, 46) since Jesus' burial. While modern westerners might measure days in 24-hour periods, the Jews measured time differently, counting each portion of a day as a whole day. The Greek adjective used in verses 7 and 46, tritos means "third in a series." Looking forward the third day would be the day after tomorrow. Looking backward it would be the day before yesterday. This is the third day counting parts of three days -- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The women begin their trek to the garden tomb very early indeed. The Greek adjective batheos, "at the extreme of, very, exceedingly," modifies the word for "early morning."
Early that morning the women buy spices (Mark 16:1). The Greek noun aroma, refers to "any kind of fragrant substance, fragrant spice, salve, oil, or perfume," especially used in embalming the dead. Now they are prepared (Greek hetoimazo) to provide whatever additional care is necessary for Jesus' body following his hasty entombment late Friday afternoon.
The Stone Is Rolled Away, the Body Missing (24:2-3)
"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." (24:2-3) Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47) had witnessed Jesus' burial on Friday evening. They are sure of the location; there was no mistake about that. And since it is a new tomb, there is no confusing either the tomb or which corpse belongs to Jesus. But when they arrive the large stone blocking the door has been rolled away and the body is nowhere to be seen.
Two Angels Appear to Them (24:4-5a)
There may be chattering between themselves at this point or maybe struck dumb from the shock of finding no body. "Wondering" (NIV) or "perplexed" (KJV) is the Greek verb apareo, "to be in a confused state of mind, be at a loss, be in doubt, be uncertain." But, whatever the case, they aren't in doubt for long.
"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." (24:4-5a)
Suddenly, two men are standing beside them. In contrast to the mournful shadows of the tomb, their garments are brilliant and seem to illuminate the sepulchre. The words "gleamed like lightning" (NIV) or "shining" (KJV) translate the Greek verb astrapto, "flash, gleam." The word is used of the flash of lightning, and a similar word exastrapto, is used to describe Jesus' clothing at his transfiguration. These are angels and their garments are shining with the Shekinah glory of God (Exodus 33:11; 34:30; Acts 10:30; Revelation 15:6; ).
The women are terrified. "Fright" or "afraid" is the Greek adjective emphobos, "pertaining to being in a state of fear, afraid, startled, terrified." Quickly they bow down with their faces to the ground in utter obeisance before the majesty of these angels.
[Sidebar: Notice the presence of angels in these three gospel versions; none of them say quite the same words, but all three stories include angels--two of them! Does this address the question of "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?" Clearly the message being sent is "Look up, look up! What has happened is beyond your literal understanding; you must look to another kind of understanding in order to get this!" Angels exist in a supernatural dimension that is only visible to Men who look beyond the veil of physical reality into the timeless eternal. There we are more alive, more radiant, more real. That seems like a good place to look.]
Back to Ralph Wilson:
"He Has Risen (24:5b-6a)
Now the angels speak:
"But the men said to them, 'Why do you look for (Greek zeteo) the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!" (24:5b-6a)
The angels ask a startling question: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" They are in a tomb looking for a dead man. But a grave is no place to find the living Christ, the angels declare with some irony. A grave is the last place to you look when you are seeking Life.
He is risen! "Risen" is the Greek verb egeiro, "to cause to return to life, raise up" or "to enter into or to be in a state of life as a result of being raised, rise."
To followers who have been stunned by his crucifixion, hearts heavy with dejection, and eyes puffy with tears, these words are like an explosion. Risen! Raised to life! Their emotions are now wrenched again with the news. It must be true, coming from angels! But how can it be?
Jesus Foretells His Resurrection (24:6b-8)
The angels continue:
"Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again (Greek anistemi).' Then they remembered his words." (24:6b-8) A second Greek verb is used to translate "be raised again" -- anistemi, "rise up, come back from the dead" -- though the sense of both anistemi and egeiro is very similar.
The angels recite to the women Jesus' own prophecy that this should take place, which we read earlier in Luke:
"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Greek egeiro)." (9:22)
"He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again (Greek anistemi)." (18:32-33)
The angels speak as if the women have heard these words personally. Though on some occasions Jesus communicates this to the Twelve alone (9:18; 18:31), it is quite possible that these women heard him say it, since they also traveled with the disciples on some trips (see Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32). At the very least they have heard of the saying from the Twelve.
The women have a glimmer of recognition. "Then they remembered (Greek mimneskomai) his words" (24:8). "To remember," says commentator Joel Green, "consists of more than cognitive evocation, but includes the nuance of understanding or insight." It is clear that the women now believe that Jesus is risen."
The expression, "nuance of understanding or insight" is interesting. Always, trying to figure out how to look for Divine Truth in the mundane world is a trick. The world is filled with so many illusions, (so many things that look like fun on TV but really aren't), that eluding deception can take one's full attention. Again, I invoke direct experience as the prime authority in any spiritual matter, but, to be sure, we cannot always distinguish certain subtleties between various levels of experience. My teacher Herbert Brun insisted that any act, that owes it pedigree to some earlier act, is invalid--only the truly anomalous is true. Of course, this idea languishes in the virtual impossibility of the human mind ever coming up with anything that has never been thought of before; nevertheless, the main point is that: an act must be pure--an act must spring from the Divine Will which is not encumbered by time or causality--which therefore bears few of the trappings of physical reality, the signifiers of a reality fixed in time, and therefore, by definition, DEAD.
The following is from: Organic Faith – Searching for intimacy with God in a postmodern world
"A handful of women (Luke 24:1-12) dealt with their grief the only way they knew how. They sought to honor Jesus through service. They brought spices to treat His body. And they were stunned by what they found – an empty tomb. These women went to the tomb expecting to find the dead body of their Messiah. Instead two men in shining garments met them and asked, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” It can be easy to miss the significance of this question. How many times do people have preconceived ideas about God and His plan only to discover that their first inclinations were wrong? Our expectations can get in the way of understanding God’s plan. We frequently look for God to move in the wrong places. We seek living fruit in places where there is only death. Nothing works out like we had planned and then we begin to doubt God’s promises."
[Sidebar: The idea that "Our expectations can get in the way of understanding God’s plan," deserves comment. As mentioned above in regard to artistic originality, our acts must be pure. So, too, must be our expectations; the visions we project into the future are very much the realities we get back in the present. Thus, just as there are many levels of consciousness, so must there be just as many levels of expectation, that is: expectation understood as an act of Will, a reaching of the divine into mundane principalities. Expectation also serves as an index of WHERE we are looking for the living. Are we looking with physical eyes in physical places, or are we looking with spiritual eyes in spiritual places?]
Back to Organic Faith:
"The angelic messengers reminded the women of Jesus’ words. He talked about his suffering on the cross. But his followers missed the point. God wants us to understand His plan. Prophecy has existed for years to guide those who would have ears to hear. But frequently we miss it because we look in the wrong place.
The one thing we think could never achieve God’s plan is the exact thing that God uses. To the Jews, the idea of a king conquering through dying as a common criminal on a cross seems completely absurd. Kings conquered through conquest not suffering a shameful, barbaric death.
If you are faithful to serve despite the pain of your circumstance, like the women at the tomb, you will see the power of God materialize. It may not happen in your timing or how you would do it. But God rewards those who are faithful by visiting them with His presence and power."
The following is from the: Daily Exegesis Bible Commentary:
"Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.'" And they remembered His words. And the good news really begins! The messengers in the shining garments are angels, messengers with a message for them. Indeed, such a message is this! "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Forever we remember these words, and the angels begin the task that starts this day: the words of Jesus are recalled and illumined for them. And my study bible adds, "He is risen! The news of great joy, heralding the new dispensation, resounds throughout the whole world, transforming the creation and the lives of millions of men and women."
The following is: Publication #00.128 WHY SEEK YE THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD? by Elwin R. Roach
"...Why seek ye the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5). Indeed, why would anyone seek the living among the dead? The cemetery is not the place where heart-beating bodies are generally found. You might find the gravedigger, the groundskeeper, a preacher or two, or perhaps people in a funeral procession; but all in all, the graveyard is not the best place to look. Life does not abide therein. Any place but among the tombs would be where life is generally found.
Even so, people of the world scout every avenue and back alley of death, looking for some form of life, hoping to stave off the hunger pangs of their empty souls. Eating husks along with the pigs is not a good diet for anyone, and this concerns us greatly. We are pained until they are all delivered from those dead places of futility.
It is obvious to anyone with any insight at all that the worldly masses are looking in fruitless places for life, and such vain attempts are expected of them. But we would not expect our brothers and sisters also to look for the living among the dead, but they do. Christians of all faiths spend much of their time exploring catacombs, digging in graveyards, musing through lifeless tombs, and admiring whited sepulchers. They are like the archeologists who scour the earth for evidence of the dead past, who search and dig with much interest and vigor. It is their life and livelihood. For some reason, death fascinates them. However, should that be the lot for those called by the name of Christ? We should say not! For there is no value in death, not one breath. Only with the living is there truly anything of worth."
I've saved John for last because he gives us the answer to why, how and where all in a single paragraph:
The Gospel according to John 20:11-16
11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabbo'ni; which is to say, Master."
"Master." The moment of recognition--epiphany. This is such a moving and resonant moment in the story for me. The moment when the veil of illusion is lifted and the truth of spiritual life spills over into human consciousness. I believe this to be a moment of realization that all Christians have had, because a Christian is someone who has met Jesus face to face. Without that personal experience all our theology is sounding brass. We must meet Jesus face to face in His Transcendent Form. It is so beautiful to think of Mary Magdelene as the very first human to have that experience; as such, she becomes the heroine of her own myth, and a model for us all.
All this talk about recognition, "epiphany" stuff, reminds me of a passage in the Screwtape Letters, the part at the end where Screwtape describes how the human hero dies, and how, at the moment of his death, the hero sees, in a single moment, both the demon who has been working for his damnation, and his Savior:
"How well I know what happened at the instant when they snatched him from you! There was a sudden clearing of his eyes (was there not?) as he saw you for the first time, and recognized the part you had had in him and knew that you had it no longer. Just think (And let it be the beginning of your agony) what he felt at that moment; as if a scab had fallen from an old sore, as if he were emerging from a hideous, shell-like teeter, as if he shuffled off for good and all a defiled, wet, clinging garment. By Hell, it is misery enough to see them in their mortal days taking off dirty and uncomfortable clothes and splashing in hot water and giving little grunts of pleasure-stretching their eased limbs! What, then, of this final stripping, this complete cleansing? . . . .
As he saw you, he also saw Them. I know how it was. You reeled back dizzy and blinded, more hurt by them than he had ever been by bombs. The degradation! -- that this thing of earth and slime could stand upright and converse with spirits before whom you, a spirit, could only cower. Perhaps you had hoped that the awe and strangeness of it would dash his joy. But that is the cursed thing; the gods are strange to mortal eyes, and yet they are not strange. He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not "Who are you?" but "so it was you all the time."
Jesus was to be found among the dead after all. Mary was the first to find something we all seek.
The "why" was Mary's great grief, her longing to be filled by the One whom she had come to need as the fulfillment of her highest self;
the "how" was in the pursuit of the familiar, with attention focused on the super-familiar;
and the "where" was--ANYWHERE, even among the dead.
If the message of Jesus is "there is no death", then the answer to the question, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?", is that there are no dead--if we look beyond to the perishable dimension into the eternity of spirit that denies the claims of death on anyone who merely turns his face toward the light of life and embraces the gift of grace.
Earlier we read the words, "Behold the place where they laid Him," and we suggested that the place where they laid him is a place of death. And yet, there He was not in a place of death but in a dimension above death, such that a place of death becomes yet another place of rebirth.
You see, the presence of Jesus in the tomb directly contradicts the implication that Jesus is not in the tomb. I can just imagine the arguments between John and Mark: "I can so too remember Him saying, "Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead?"" "Did not!" "Did so!" But the beauty is this: even after the crucifixion Jesus can do this thing He does of getting a saying or action to mean more than one thing. Multiple layers of meaning and spiritual power run all through Jesus' message to Humankind. No, He is not in the tomb, but yes He IS in the tomb, but this tomb reaches beyond the tomb of earthly death into the glory of eternal life.
And thus, we need to face the world, the evils of the world, the death of the world. LOOKING THROUGH AND PAST the articulate surface features of the world to the heart of the world wherein beats the warm, loving, protective heart of the Christ, speaking words of power, reaching out to us with cleansing hands.
Let us pray: Jesus, we thank you every day of our lives, for the gift of grace you have made available to us, through great sacrifice. We thank You for your messages, of word and action, which grow and are magnified in us every time we experience them. Please direct our eyes to the proper level of consciousness, for the proper day, and bless us with reminders of your presence at every hour. Let us find you wherever we look for you, and let us look for you in all things. Amen.