Why Look for Death Among the Living?
By, Rev. Howard C. Earle, Jr., D.Min.
Chaplain & Director of Spiritual Care
I pass Woodlawn Cemetery every day on my commute to and from work. I sometimes think about the various committals I have performed for beloved members of our congregation over the last 17 years I’ve been serving in Grand Rapids. On occasion I will see individuals visiting gravesites of their loved ones; placing flowers, clearing off leaves and debris from the headstone. Now that my parents are deceased, I can’t help but think about the times when I’ve made my own visit to Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, MI to visit my parents’ grave when I witness these scenes.
We are on the verge of celebrating history’s great climax, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The world’s main event revolves around a most unusual scene, an empty grave in the cemetery. Though Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb did not look like the gravesites of today, it still served the same purpose, to be the final resting place of a lifeless body. However, Joseph’s tomb was only borrowed because Jesus would only need it for the weekend. I’ve celebrated Easter for as long as I can remember and every year I find new and fresh meaning in it. This year I’m arrested by the question of the angels posed to the women who visited the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The women were anticipating seeing a dead Jesus. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus was alive. The last time they saw Jesus he was dead, in fact they witnessed his death with their own eyes. Yet, during the time of their sojourn to his tomb he was alive. God in Christ had done the unthinkable, conquered death. It was the fulfillment of all that Jesus had promised; the destroyed temple had been rebuilt, death’s sting had been taken away, the grave had been stripped of its power. What was considered to be final and irreversible had been rendered powerless. The stone had been rolled away and the grave clothes had been neatly folded. There was no body because Jesus was gone; he was alive!
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Easter still raises the same question. How many times have we pronounced death over a situation only to experience God doing the impossible? Nothing inspires hope more than the resurrection. It is the ultimate metaphor for life after death, restoration after failure, fulfilment after loss, joy after pain, and any other reversal scenario one can think of. The scriptures inform us that through our union with Christ, we were not only crucified with Him, but we were also raised with Him. Resurrection was not just his reality but ours as well. In fact, it was for us. The resurrection assures us there is light on the other side of darkness and that we can begin again.
Perhaps Easter raises the converse of the angel’s question: “Why do you anticipate death among the living?” On a weekly basis I implore our residents to actually live and enjoy the life they have now rather than grieve the lives they lost while waiting for God to call them home. There may be more yesterdays than tomorrows, but every sunrise presents another chance to live. Consider each day as an adventure to discover how you can experience life. There will always be limitations associated with aging that we cannot escape, but there’s life; so live! Maybe your steps are shorter and your energy level isn’t what it used to be but there’s still joy to be experienced. Let Easter inspire you to dream new and fresh dreams for your life. Embrace the life you have today and take in the beauty of its new mercies. You get to decide what living will look like for you. Joseph’s tomb is still empty and as far as I know, so is yours. Jesus is alive and so are you. How will you live today?