Living among the Dead

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“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:5b-7).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
We’re going to hear a story today, a story that most of you have heard many times, but it’s worthy of being heard again. I use the word “story” with caution, for some are concerned that to call this account a “story” is to diminish it. But I use the word story here in the best sense: “a narrative of historic events and real people,” rather than “a work of fiction for entertainment purposes.” Our story today is a history and mystery. It’s a heroic epic and love story. It is mystical, almost mythical. It’s a riveting drama and comedy (in the classic sense). No wonder this story is often called “the greatest story ever told,” for it is indeed the story in which all other good or great stories have their root. I’m speaking, of course, of the story of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But, perhaps you’ve never thought of it this way. Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least repetition begets boredom. Some of you have heard the story of the resurrection of our Lord so many times, it’s easy to miss the sense of mystery and awe experienced by the first witnesses. They were “perplexed,” “frightened,” “unbelieving,” “marveling.” And so today, I would invite you to listen with fresh ears. Listen to this story unfold as though you have never heard it before, as if you are living it yourself for the first time.
I’m sure Jesus’ followers remembered Friday vividly, though certainly not fondly. It started out badly for this little rag-tag band, and it only grew worse as they followed Him to the Mount of Olives. While the disciples had slept, exhausted from sorrow, their Teacher sweat drops of blood in the Garden. Suddenly, Jesus was arrested, betrayed with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver. His disciples had scattered in the dark like rats from a burning landfill. Jesus was scourged and beaten, unjustly tried and convicted before the corrupt religious and spineless civil authorities. By afternoon, the sky grew black as He hung dying on the cross. The women watched at a distance as the God-man was suspended between heaven and earth, derided by man and cursed by God. A far cry from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem to waving palms and shouts of “Hosanna” just five days before.
Now Jesus was dead. The disciples knew about death—they’d even heard Jesus predict His own several times. But death, particularly the death of a loved one, is an uncomfortable topic to meet head-on, so they’d always found a way to avoid discussing it. We all do this whistling past the graveyard to one extent or another to avoid the terrible possibility. But now, possibility had become violent reality. Jesus was dead; His body laid in a tomb. The disciples hid in fear.
Saturday came, whether the eleven wanted it to or not. How did they spend Saturday? The Bible doesn’t tell us. But one can only imagine that it seemed to last forever. One can only speculate on their thoughts and emotions. Grief would be one, because they had lost the Teacher who had declared them to be His friends. Bitterness and guilt would be there, because they’d pledged their loyalty to Jesus, even to death, and then they had run away when confronted with threat. Shock and horror would be another, because Jesus had been killed in such a brutal, gruesome way. Fear would follow quickly—for if the Teacher had been put to death by those in power, wouldn’t it make sense for them to kill His disciples, too?
With that tempest of thought and regret, there’s little doubt that the disciples were less than one step away from total despair. Jesus was in the grave. All that they had left was the memories and the agonizing wait for the other shoe to drop on them. Or so it seemed to their broken hearts and tear-filled eyes.
But whatever the disciples felt or perceived in their despair, Jesus was not given over to death and corruption. The work of redemption was complete. So, like the first week of creation, this Saturday was a day of rest from His labors. From what we know from Scripture, this is when the Lord descended into hell—not suffer, but to declare His victory to the spirits in prison.
Nothing so proclaims a victory as entering the enemy’s turf unhindered, saying what you want to say. So Jesus entered into hell and proclaimed His victory there. The Living One goes among the dead to show that neither death nor hell could hold Him. To proclaim that death and hell can no longer hold you! But while He did, the eleven agonized throughout that long Saturday—because they’d forgotten what Jesus had said. If only they had remembered!
Then, Sunday comes. The women take the spices they have prepared and go to the tomb. These women have followed Jesus from Galilee. For the last three years, they have made it their special responsibility to minister to His needs. They plan on serving Him one last time by anointing His dead body. They certainly don’t expect to find Him living among the dead. This is the attitude of those who are still living in the old covenant: they have confidence in resurrection on the Last Day, but they certainly do not expect a resurrection now!
They find the tomb open. Jesus’ body is gone. All of the facts of the resurrection are right there before them. However, the women need to have the significance of the facts explained to them. They don’t know what to make of what they have seen. Two angels suddenly arrive on the scene to provide the interpretation. They ask the women a question that invites them to see things from the perspective of the new era of salvation: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:5b-7).
These words of the angels are the first of two instructions in Luke to “read back” from the perspective of the evidence before them, and see how this great moment—the revelation of Jesus’ resurrection—had already been revealed in the record of Jesus’ teaching and miracles while they had been with Him in Galilee.
A breakthrough occurs. The Word of God—finally—penetrates the uncomprehending minds of sinful humans and produces faith. For the first time, Jesus’ words are “remembered”—that is, understood by faith and believed. At long last, minds and eyes are being made open to understand God’s Word. There is no longer any doubt in their minds, nor any uncertainty, but joyful trust and belief in the resurrection of their Lord. Christ is risen from the dead. God has raised His Son, Jesus. Christ has raised up the temple of His body in three days.
And thus He has been declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. And therefore He has also proved to be the Savior of the world. He has broken the chains of death. Death has been conquered, and the sting of death—sin—has been taken away. Christ was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25).
All these gifts belong to the believing women by faith on that first great Easter morning. And this same faith causes them to turn back from the grave, to return to the city, and to bring the message of all these wonderful things to the other disciples. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! It’s not that just His memory lives on, so that people can do what they think is right and say they’re following Jesus. It’s not that only His soul is alive, free-floating somewhere apart from His flesh. The tomb is empty! Christ is risen, body and all!
This, dear friends, is huge. Way back in the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve to live forever in both body and soul. Sin brought death to both, to the whole of them. If Jesus is risen only in soul, it means that He hasn’t completely beaten sin and reversed the curse. But He is risen—fully, wholly risen.
So, on that day, the angels tell the women to tell the disciples the Good News, and to send them toward Galilee where they would see Him again. After all, He conquered sin and death and hell for them. Just as He has conquered sin and death and hell for you. And for you that makes all the difference in the world, in this life and the next. For the one thing that is certain in this life is death.
It’s considered impolite, depressing, to spend much time talking about death if you don’t have to in our culture. And yet you spend much of your life with it in the back of your mind, don’t you? That’s why you look both ways before you cross the street and make sure the mayonnaise hasn’t gone bad. That’s why you go see the doctor for all those unpleasant preventive exams—or purposely avoid going to the doctor for them. That’s why you wear seat belts, try to get some exercise, count the calories, get a flu shot, and keep the blood pressure in check. It’s why you bombard your kids with all sorts of rules to keep them safe. It’s why parents stay up late at night waiting for their teenagers to come home.
Life in this world doesn’t just happen. Even though death is the most unnatural thing in God’s plan for this world, life in a dying world doesn’t naturally go on. It’s a precious, fragile gift from God. God willing, you’ll still be here tomorrow, but you can’t be sure. It takes vigilance, hard work, and the Lord’s mercy to stay alive in a dying world. So even if you don’t consciously think about death all that much, you plan your day against it. Everyone does—everyone has to, because all are born in sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… and the wages of sin is death.
The world seeks to cope with this in different ways: it tries to pretend it doesn’t happen, it seeks to make death a friend, or it searches for scientific breakthroughs to avoid dying in the first place. But death is always the shadow at the end of everyone’s vision.
But as for you, you do not despair. You know that Christ is risen from the dead… for you. Therefore, even though it will be given you—at times—to suffer and grieve and then to eventually die, despair is not for you. While you must bear your own cross, the risen Lord is with you now.
 In His Word and Sacraments, the Living One walks among you, you who were dead in your sin and transgressions. He speaks forgiveness to you in His Word. He gives you His risen body and blood in His Supper. He promises that nothing and no one can snatch you out of His hand… not sin, not Satan, not even death itself. Death remains an enemy, yes, but a conquered one. It is an enemy under Jesus’ feet, and He uses it to deliver you from this world to life forever with Him. In Christ, eternal life awaits because He is risen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! And because He is risen, you have life and salvation. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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