“The Living Christ”
A sermon from Pastor Jane Jeuland
On this Easter morning, we find Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James venturing off to Jesus’ tomb.
These three women had just watched Jesus die. They had watched as their innocent leader had been sentenced to death on the cross. They had watched him take his last breath. They had watched as his body was carried to the tomb.
Jesus was the man who they thought would become their king. He was the one who was going to take over and rescue them from the oppressive Roman Empire, and yet he was arrested by Roman soldiers, and he was tried and sentenced to death by Roman authority. He died at the hands of the ones he was supposed to overtake. He died like a criminal.
Jesus was the man they thought was not only going to be a king. They thought he was the Messiah, the son of God, and yet it seemed like he wasn’t able to stop this atrocity. He wasn’t able to stop his own suffering, he could not prevent his own humiliation, he couldn’t avoid his own death. He died like any human would who was hung on a cross. Why didn’t God stop this? How could God allow this?
Jesus was gone and the man they thought he was, was gone. There was a very quiet, empty void. Everything they thought they knew had changed. They questioned everything they thought they believed. Nothing seemed real anymore.
Do you ever feel this way with God? God isn’t who you expect him to be. Or maybe you wonder why God won’t stop evil or you wonder why God allows bad things to happen at all? If God is good, why doesn’t God stop the war? Why doesn’t God stop the pandemic? Why doesn’t God stop death?
These three women were grieving. They were grieving the loss of Jesus and they were grieving the loss of who they thought Jesus was going to be. So they go to Jesus’ tomb with spices as a sign of respect and honor. As they approach the tomb, they find that the stone was rolled away and Jesus’ body was no where to be found. Then suddenly two men appear beside them in dazzling clothes, two angels, who ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here, but has risen.”
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Do you ever do this? Do you ever go looking for the living among the dead?
Several of us in the church have been taking the free Yale course “the Science of Well Being” taught by Dr. Laurie Santos. One of the primary take aways from the course is that our brains often mis-want. We predict that something will make us happy that in fact does not make us happy. We look for the living among the dead.
One study by Nick Epley shows that most people believe that when they are on the train, being in quiet isolation will make them happier than if they spent the train ride talking to a stranger. But Epley’s study shows the exact opposite. In his study, people who were told to strike up conversation with a stranger on the train were happier than people who were told to spend the train ride in isolation and the strangers were also happier after the train ride than if they had been riding the train quietly uninterrupted.
Many studies have shown that people who have one of more close relationships are healthier and actually live longer. Epley’s study shows that that not only close relationships, but really any social interaction not matter how trivial, even for introverts, will make us happier and improve our quality of life.
And yet time and time again we predict that isolation will make us happier. You may even be thinking that those studies may apply to other people but not to you. Yet they have been done with thousands of people across many socio-economic conditions with introverts and extroverts and the findings always show improvements with more social interaction. We don’t think these studies apply to us because time and time again our brains mis-want. We look for the living among the dead. We look for goodness and well-being in dark, empty places.
And not only that… it is not only that we look for goodness in dark places, we also at times actively look for the dark.
The angels asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” But notice that the women were in fact not even looking for the living Jesus. They were looking for a deceased Jesus in a tomb.
We do this all the time. We are so good at seeking out negativity, misery, and frustration. We go looking for something to complain about. And when one person starts complaining about something, we all join in like it’s a pleasant pastime to gripe and moan.
This early spring there was a series of beautiful warm spring days followed by a long stretch of cold, grey, rainy days. Every day I picked up my kids from school on those rainy days, the parents and I would stand shivering in the cold in our winter coats complaining about the weather and how miserable it was. We whined wondering when the weather would clear.
I had a prayer group that I ran that week with a group of cancer patients receiving palliative care. Most of us in the zoom group bemoaned the weather. Until one of the group members chimed in with a smile. He looking out of his window and said, “yeah it’s pretty bad out there, but isn’t it great that the light is lasting longer each day? The sun is setting later and later. I love this time of year.” This is a man who has endured more procedures than anyone could imagine. This is a man who has excruciating pain in his hands and feet that make it difficult to sleep and walk. This is a man who was told he had a 6% chance of living past July 2021, yet he pushes past the pain to walk 8 miles a day.
This man saw the light when we all complained about the rain. This man who has more to complain about than anyone found something to be joyful about. So many of us are good at looking for the worst thing to be frustrated about.
Like the three women who went to the tomb, most of us are very good at expecting the worst. We are all very good at looking for all the negative things.
So how can we be people who get up on Sunday morning and look for a living Jesus even after we watched him take his last breath?
How can we be people who are friendly on the train even when ever fiber of our being feels like that is not a good idea?
How can we be people who look for the light even when it’s raining?
We can be this kind of person when we put our trust in Jesus.
Throughout his life, Jesus actually very clearly and often told his disciples that he would be killed and would then rise up from the grave. After Jesus feeds five thousand people by miraculously multiplying just a few loaves and fish, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Jesus honestly could not have been more clear, and yet we find his followers running to the tomb to anoint his deceased body.
As they face the profound grief of sudden and traumatic loss, they could not remember his words or perhaps they could not comprehend how they were possible or perhaps they did not trust him. After the saw him killed, they did not trust that he was going to do what he said he would do.
Just as Jesus spoke clearly to his disciples about what was going to happen, Jesus has been speaking over your life very clearly and often. He has been speaking through friends, family and co-workers. In small and profound moments, he has been encouraging you to come back to your faith. He has been encouraging you to increase your faith him. He has been going before you. He is the still small voices that guides you in your work, your home life, and your relationships. He has been sending angels your way again and again.
Do you trust Jesus? Do you trust what he says over your life? Do you trust his guidance? Or are you like Jesus’ followers getting up on Sunday morning looking for the living among the dead or maybe you are even getting up on Sunday morning preparing yourself for the worst case scenario?
How can we get out of the cycle of mis-wanting and poor predictions about what will ultimately bring us lasting joy? How can we get out of this negative space where we spend more time complaining than we do giving thanks?
Trust in Jesus. Trust that he is going to do what he said he would do. Yes he is going to be killed, but then he is going to rise from the grave. Yes life has a great deal of hardship, frustration, and even suffering, but Jesus has promised to bring you joy, freedom, comfort and the deepest, life changing peace when you look for him. So look for the living Jesus. Put your trust in him.
Because when you do… when you put your trust in Jesus, you will become someone who looks for the living Jesus, someone who looks for good things, someone who even anticipate friendly encounters on public transportation, someone who looks for the light in the rain, someone who can weather some of life’s most difficult storms.
And wouldn’t you rather be a person who looks for the living Jesus, wouldn’t you rather live your life expecting Jesus to show up, expecting wholeness, peace, and belonging.
So put your whole trust in Jesus. You might still have your reservations, but every morning when you wake up say in your mind, “I trust you Jesus.”
Put your trust in Jesus. Look for the living Christ and you will find life. Amen.