Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead? Luke 24:1-12
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
There’s a story about a man who lost his keys one night. It was dark out and he was out searching for them underneath a streetlight. A police officer saw him and stopped to help. He asked the man what he was looking for. “I’m looking for my car keys,” he said, “I just can’t find them!” The police officer nodded and helped him look around the area underneath the streetlight. They looked all over the area but couldn’t find them. After several minutes, the police officer asked the man if he was sure he lost the keys in this spot. The man said, “No, I lost them in the park.” The officer said, “Well then why are you looking for them on the street?” “That’s simple,” the man said, “There’s more light here. Wouldn’t be able to find anything in that dimly lit park!”
There’s an older version of this tale that involves a spiritual teacher and his disciple. The teacher arrives at his student’s house and finds him searching through the grass outside looking for a precious gem he has lost. When the teacher asks where he thinks he lost it, the student tells him it’s in his basement somewhere. But when the spiritual teacher suggests looking for it in the basement, he laughs and gives the same reply the man told the police officer: “Ha! Wouldn’t be able to find anything in that dimly lit basement!”
The spiritual lesson of both stories is that, as humans, we know we’re missing something precious. But we don’t want to look for it where the search is hard. Instead, we search where it’s easy, but where the precious thing we’re looking for can’t possibly be found.
I was reminded of these stories reflecting on the passage we just read from Luke’s Gospel this Easter morning. Specifically what the angels, or men in dazzling clothes, said to the women at the empty tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” This wonderful, poetic phrase is a bit cryptic and mysterious. Perhaps the angels spoke in this way to reveal something about human nature. To comment on the way human beings are always looking for life in all the wrong places. To reveal something to the women about the human condition, and how Christ’s Resurrection changes everything.
The first words of Jesus’ ministry were “Repent for the kingdom of God is near!” The word we translate “repent” is the Greek word metanoia, and it actually means to change your mind. It’s been said the best way to translate metanoia is “change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness.” And so here at the empty tomb, the angels are commenting on the same thing. Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why are you looking in all the wrong places for happiness, fulfillment, and true life? When the angels ask “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they’re not only pointing out that Jesus has risen from the dead; they’re also commenting on the great problem of human history: our misguided search for life and fulfilment.
In a way, all of history has been a story of humanity looking for the living among the dead. Of looking for life and fulfillment in all the wrong places. Of looking for truth in fields of falsehood. Of looking for meaning in desolate wastelands. Of looking for the living among the dead.
Individually and collectively, we humans have always looked for life and fulfillment where it can’t possibly be found. For all of human history we’ve sought to find fulfillment in the building up of empires, of bolstering our own tribe at the expense of other tribes. And more recently in human history, it’s been the building up of our individual egos and identities at the expense of other individuals.
On a societal level, we seek safety by using violence and war. For far too long our world has searched for the living among the dead by believing war will bring peace. By using violence as a way to achieve our goals. By trusting in dominate power structures to bring order to the world.
On a personal level, we seek fulfillment in the promise of money and materialism to give us happiness. In the unending chase to gratify all our desires and instincts. In vain attempts to gain affirmation from others, to enhance reputation and popularity, to gain self-worth by what others think of us. We seek to have power and control over our own life because we can’t trust the divine flow of the universe. So we try to force things to fit into our model of the way things should be, rather than surrendering to the flow. We seek endless affection and esteem from a place of anxious groundlessness. And expect human relationships to fulfill our deepest longings for love and meaning. We seek security by storing up treasurers for ourselves—too afraid to share out of our abundance because of the perception we never have enough. We’re insecure in our sense of self, so we feel compelled to defend our identity against any perceived attack that threatens our fragile self concept. We let our insecure ego call the shots, and become trapped in the tribalism that divides nations, religions, political parties, and groups of all kinds.
We look for the living among the dead when we put our trust in our own clever schemes rather than seek the wisdom of contemplative silence. We look for the living among the dead when we seek happiness in the accumulation of things. We look for the living among the dead when we seek freedom by doing whatever our desires command us to.
Both individually and as a society, we human beings have searched for the meaning of life in material things, in money, in reputation and status symbols, in the use of force to realize our agendas. We’ve sought happiness by trying to force life to be the way we want it to be, becoming slaves to our own desires and selfishness.
And when we inevitably fail to find true meaning and fulfillment in these artificial, temporary things, we fall into addiction and purposelessness. When we look for the precious gem where it can’t possibly be found we fall into nihilism and meaninglessness. Thinking there’s nothing more to life than confusion, suffering, and despair. Nothing beyond our present existence. No hope for a better way of being. No sign of anything more than this. That’s what happens when we spend our life looking for the living among the dead.
But in spite of the fact that we human beings are always looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. Always looking for the keys on the street, or the gem in the yard. In spite of our misguided search for fulfillment—and actually, because of our misguided search—Christ came to show us the way.
Christ came to teach us to see. Christ came to die and rise again so that we might know where to look for true life. Christ came to heal our blindness, to free us from confusion, to save us from our misdirected strivings for fulfillment. To change the direction in which we were looking for happiness. Jesus Christ is the one we look to for fulfillment, meaning, and true life. For life, we look toward the Living One. We need not look among the dead, the temporary and transient things of this world. Jesus teaches us to see beyond them, into the divine source at the center of all things. To appreciate the things of this world, without depending on them for meaning and ultimate fulfillment.
Even though human history is one long story of looking for life and salvation in all the wrong places, still Christ came to show us the way. Jesus Christ embodied the Way, manifested Truth and Life itself. And He suffered death on the cross to redeem all that is. To draw all that is false into Himself and to redeem it and redeem the world.
Christ died and rose again to show us the way. To heal our sight. To free us from the sin and selfishness that misdirects our search. To redeem us and reconcile the world with God. To realign the world with the divine Way.
Jesus taught metanoia: change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness. And when the angels at the tomb ask the women “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they are announcing that the great problem of human history: our misguided search for life and fulfilment, has been healed. The ignorance and selfishness and sin that leads us down the wrong path, has been forgiven and transformed in Christ. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we know where to find our heart’s deepest longing. We know the direction in which to look for happiness. We know where to turn for true fulfillment. We know where to find true life.
So even when the human race was looking for life in all the wrong places, Jesus Christ came in search of us. To share God’s love with us. To free us from sin and guide us into abundant life now and forever. This Easter Sunday we celebrate the new life we have in Christ. Because of the cross and the empty tomb, we are free. We no longer look for the living among the dead. Because in Christ, we have found true life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Pastor Brian, 4/17/22