“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
Nora Gallagher in her book, “Practicing Resurrection: A Memoir of Work, Doubt, Discernment, and Moments of Grace” writes about what it means to “practice resurrection” in our daily lives. It is a splendid phrase, “practicing resurrection.” She wonders whether we spend too much time in the church discussing whether we believe or do not believe in the resurrection. By doing this, she thinks, we may miss the point. She writes:
“When I think about the resurrection now, I not only wonder about what happened to Jesus. I ponder what happened to his disciples. Something happened to them, too. They went into hiding after the crucifixion, but after the resurrection appearances, they walked back out into the world. They became braver and stronger; they visited strangers, and they healed the sick.
It was not just what they saw when they saw Jesus, or how they saw it, but what was set free in them. …
What if the resurrection is not about the appearances of Jesus alone, but also about what those appearances point to, what they ask?
It’s finally what we do with them that matters; make them into superstitions or use them as stepping stones to new life. Maybe resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.”
“Practicing resurrection,” is not only a splendid phrase, it is a splendid truth. It is our Easter truth.
It does seem like in so many ways, people are longing for the practice of resurrection in their lives.
The widow whose husband died at a much too early age;
The person who has lost their job and is struggling with how to re-invent themselves at mid-life and fears their ability to cope with all the new changes and challenges that life presents;
A sister or brother who suffers from bouts of depression and struggles to live through each day with little or no energy;
A friend who just experienced the tragic suicidal death of her son; she is angry at God and struggles to know why this has happened?
In so many ways, so many people are longing for new life, and the need for the practice of resurrection.
I suppose one could say that the women who arrived at the empty tomb on that first Easter morning really needed to practice resurrection.
Think about it. They had gone to the tomb on that morning to attend to Jesus’ body. This was to be the last, loving service they could do for their Lord. They had witnessed Jesus’ death. They knew that there was no time for a proper burial. So they came with spices to complete the burial rites. Their beloved Lord was dead. They could at least perform this one last act of love for him.
Can you imagine how heavy their hearts must have been? Their life with Jesus was over. The one whose call had been irresistible, the one whose service was like no other service they had ever known, now he lay lifeless in a tomb.
As they approached the tomb that morning, there was great fear mixed in with their profound grief. Not just the fear of death, but the fear that all of their hopes and dreams had died along with Jesus. The fear that this is what happens to love in the world; they had known perfect love in Jesus, and the world had killed him. The world can be a cruel and a fearsome place. Why did this happen?
But something amazing happened when they reached the tomb. When they arrived at the tomb, they entered into the place of their deepest and darkest fears. They entered the very place of death. And yet, what did they find when they entered this place of fear and death? There was nothing; no body; nothing.
We are told that they were perplexed when they did not find the body, which is understandable because they thought their story with Jesus was over and his dead body was the final period. But the angel reminded them that this is not the end of the story. The angel said:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” (Luke 24: 5-7)
They needed to be reminded of resurrection. “Remember how he told you,” But then they needed to practice resurrection. They needed to go and tell all this to the rest of the disciples.
They got the good news that Christ is risen from the dead, and now they needed to change from people who perform rites for the dead to disciples who bear witness to the living Lord.
They needed to practice resurrection.
In the gospel of Matthew the angel said to the women at the tomb:
“He is not here; he is risen as he said, he goes before you; spread the good news, do not be afraid, you have nothing to fear.”
They needed to change from people who are fearful and frightened to people who boldly proclaim that God’s life is stronger than any death, that God’s love is stronger than any hate, that God’s peace is more powerful than human violence.
They needed to practice resurrection.
So they practiced by sharing this good news with the disciples. They told them all they had seen and heard. And it must be said, that the men were “slow on the uptake.” The words of the women seemed to them to be an idle tale.
They too needed to practice resurrection; they eventually got it, and, together with those first women, they became a courageous group of disciples who changed the world.
The good news of Easter is that Jesus Christ, who was crucified, was raised from the dead. This belief, this truth, this resurrection, changes everything.
Cruelty is not the last word. Sin and evil are not the ultimate powers of the universe. Death is not the final word.
The final word is: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; forgiveness, love, and life are the final realities of the world. Jesus Christ is risen today. The power of God is stronger than any tomb. Jesus Christ has risen, he is risen indeed!
The good news of Easter is not only that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and lives now, but also that the power of the resurrection can transform our lives as well. New life is possible, right now, right here, today. But for that to happen, we need not only to be reminded of resurrection, but also to practice resurrection.
Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and noted author, in his most recent book, “Immortal Diamond” includes twelve ways to practice resurrection:
- Refuse to identify with negative, blaming, antagonistic, or fearful thoughts. (You can’t help having those kinds of thoughts, but we must refuse to identify with them.)
- Apologize when you hurt another person.
- Undo your mistakes by some positive action toward the offended person.
- Do not indulge or believe in your False Self – that which is concocted by your mind and society’s expectations.
- Choose your True Self – your radical union with God – as often as possible throughout the day.
- Always seek to change yourself before trying to change others.
- Choose as much as possible to serve rather than to be served.
- Whenever possible, seek the common good over your mere private good.
- Give preference to those in pain, the excluded, or those who are disabled in any way.
- Seek just systems and policies over mere charity.
- Make sure your medium is the same as your message.
- Never doubt that it is all about love in the end.
Practice Resurrection! Right here and right now!
Is it possible! Think about it; is it possible to practice resurrection in our own lives, is it possible to practice resurrection right here in our church, on our city streets, and throughout Chicagoland, or wherever we find ourselves!
Can we, like those first women who came to the tomb, practice resurrection in our own lives? The promise of Easter is that we can. We don’t need to go about looking for the living among the dead. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. He is alive and because he is alive, we can be assured that we too are alive.
We read in First John 3:2:
“My dear people, we are already the children of God. But what we are in the future is not yet fully revealed. All we know is that when it is revealed, we shall all be like him.”
Some of us began the season of Lent some 40 days ago as we gathered in the Schmidt Chapel for an Ash Wednesday Service; that night we received the signing of ashes on our foreheads, and words from Genesis 2:19 were pronounced:
“Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.”
Today, we are all anointed with a holy oil on this glorious Easter morning, and we receive the other half of the message:
“Love is always stronger than death, and unto that love you have now returned.”
An ancient homily used on Easter Eve puts it this way:
“I order you, O sleeper, to awake! I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.
Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Rise up, work of my hands, you were created in my image.
Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you.
Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated!
Today we need to be reminded of the truth of the resurrection, a resurrection to new life – over and over again.
The truth of Easter is that the promise of new life doesn’t just await us in the future, but that we are able to live new lives, here and now, by the power of the resurrection.
Resurrection, like everything else, needs to be practiced.