I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead
Since the 4th century Christians have confessed as we did today, "And I look for the resurrection of the dead." They confessed this against the religions and philosophies of the Roman world which believed in an afterlife but laughed at a resurrection. When Paul preached in Athens they listened as he confessed creation out of nothing, repentance, and judgment, but they laughed, mocked, and scoffed when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. Still think you "look for the resurrection of the dead?"
The women in the text didn't. They looked for the dead. That's why they bought the spices. That's why there were at the tomb so early. They had to put those spices on the corpse of Jesus before anymore decomposition set in. They didn't look for an empty tomb; they didn't look for the resurrection of the dead but for the dead Jesus.
I don't look for the resurrection of the dead anymore than the Mary's. I drive past cemeteries thinking of them as places of the dead not as places of resurrection. I think of them as nothing but burial grounds not remembering that cemetery is a word Christians first used. It means "sleeping place." Just as you look for the sleeping to awake, so they looked for the resurrection of the dead. Not I. I look for the restoration of health; I look for renewed hope; I look for rejuvenation; I look for reborn enthusiasm. If I could find even one of these in Easter, that would be something worth celebrating; that would be something to come to church for.
I look for the wrong things from Jesus, from Easter, from Christianity in general. I know they're wrong because Jesus called disciples to self-denial, the cross, loss, tribulation, suffering, and death. Oh that's right; He also called us to the resurrection of the dead, but I don't look for that because I'm not dead enough.
I think Mary Magdalene was dead enough. She's the only person all four Gospels say went to the tomb on Easter. She is the one who came back to it after finding it empty. She was the one who first saw the risen Jesus. She was the one Jesus had cast 7 demons out of. Seven devils, even once cast out, leave a mark. I also think Peter was dead enough to look for the resurrection of the dead. How come? Because Jesus particularly wants the angel to tell the Mary's to "go tell His disciples and Peter." Peter since Thursday night had been dying the coward's thousand deaths. Peter wished he were dead. Peter sick to death with himself was a prime candidate to be looking for the resurrection of the dead.
Are you? I don't think so. You lack the sentence of death within yourself that goes with one who looks for the resurrection of the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:9 says, "We had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead." Nah, you don't have that death sentence. You still think you can be a better person than you have been. You still think if given another chance you can keep your temper better, trust God more, love your spouse deeper. There's no death sentence hanging over your head. Your sins, your failings, your mistakes aren't that serious, aren't that bad. It's not like you've got seven demons; maybe one or two but not seven. It's like you denied your Lord three times; maybe once back in college or high school but that's it.
You didn't come here looking for the resurrection of the dead. You came here looking for a resuscitation of optimism, the positive outlook you had yesterday when you were young or healthy or happy. You're here looking for a resuscitation of Annie's faith that the sun will come out tomorrow; you're here looking for a resuscitation of what Maureen McGovern believed: there's got to be a morning after where you get another chance.
I say, "I look for the resurrection of the dead," but I'm not really looking because I'm not dead enough. O yes I am; I just don't know it. When I was younger I shot a hovering humming bird clean through with a BB gun. It hung there in the air looking alive but it was already dead. A WW II sailor reports seeing his buddy running 5 full steps after an explosion had taken his head clean off. A regular feature of "The Twilight Zone" is the person who slowly comes to the realization that he is already dead. That's me; that's you.
Wake up; you're dead. The event you've feared all your life has already happened. Death dressed in black with a sharp sickle has already sliced clean through you. Commentator Andy Rooney said, "Death is a distant rumor to the young" (The Week, 2/3/12, 15). I'm telling you regardless of how young you are, it's not a rumor at all and you're already dead. Like in the movies, all it takes is for the right circumstances to instantly age you, decay you, rot you, and dissolve you into the dust from which you were made.
Actually your death was concurrent with your conception. In sin were you and I conceived in our mother's womb. We were born dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul says "in Adam all die." You can't put an asterisk next to all. It doesn't say all bad people, all old people, all unbelieving people, but "all." What we have right here in this church is Ezekiel's valley of dry bones. The sin we inherited from our parents and has broken into our lives a gazillion ways has left us dry bones. Right now we still have the shape of bodies, but under God's judgment we're nothing but brittle skeletons.
The true God, the Triune God, the God that only Christians worship sent His only Son, His perfect Son, into the world to keep the Commandments that all break just by breathing and to suffer His wrath against our sins and sinfulness. Jesus too looked for the resurrection of the dead but first He looked for Death. First He looked for the violent tearing of His human soul form His holy body. First He looked for the monster that haunts your dreams and stalks your thoughts. And He found him.
Being true God in flesh and blood Death couldn't take Jesus' life. Being holy, He Himself had no debt of sin that Death could demand He pay. But He had yours, and yours, and mine, and all them out there too. So to pay our debt, to satisfy God's wrath, Jesus gave up His life willingly. After suffering all the torments in place of the sinners of all time, He gave up His life to Death. And though nobody on that first Easter was looking for the resurrection of the dead, Jesus rose from the dead. God the Father was satisfied that all sins were paid for in full so Jesus didn't need to keep dying. And because the Man Jesus was also True God, Death had to spit Him out. Death has no hold over God, and where God goes Man goes in Jesus.
Now finish the rest of Paul's thought, "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." You have to read the second all the same way you read the first. All die in Adam; all will be made alive in Christ, therefore all are to look for the resurrection of the dead. The grave is not a body eater. A sarcophagus is a stone coffin. It's root meaning is body eater' because when people opened old ones they found no body (A Browser's Dictionary, 345). They found no body, but Jesus will find every single body and raise it from dust, from ashes, so everyone should look for the resurrection of the dead.unless you're going to be a Zombie. You heard me: Zombie.
All rise, but not all rise to life. All rise in the body but not all rise in a glorified body. All live everlastingly but not all live in everlasting life; some live in everlasting death. All the graves, crypts, and urns everywhere will like the sea give up their dead. An account of the 1889 Johnstown flash flood that killed over 2,000 people says, "'Hands of the dead stuck out of the ruins. Dead everywhere you went, their arms stretched above their heads almost without exception the last instinct of expiring humanity grasping at a straw" (Reader Digest, May 1989, 217). That's how all will come forth from their graves arms outstretched looking for the resurrection of the dead.
All will find resurrection but not all will find life. Only those who have been found by Jesus in the Water and Word of Holy Baptism, only those who baptism has joined to the death and life of Jesus, only those who as Paul says have put on Jesus in Baptism will find the resurrection of the dead that Jesus found and we're celebrating today.
Only those who go into their graves with their sins put on Jesus, carried away by Jesus, separated from them by Jesus' forgiving word can look for the resurrection of the dead that is glorious, better than anything this life knows or even dreams. You go into your grave clinging to what you have done good or bad; you go into your grave promising to do better; you go into your grave with excuses everyone else will believe, and you go looking for the resurrection of a Zombie.
Don't go that way. Go with the Words of Jesus ringing in your ears, "Son, Daughter, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven." Go with no promises to sin less, no excuses for not doing more. Go as dead as Mary and Peter were in their sins. Go as a sinner who claims no holiness, no goodness, but that of Jesus'. Go having eaten and drank the Body and Blood of Jesus for life everlasting. Die with Jesus' holy Body and Blood coursing through your unholy body and blood and know that having been joined to Him, God the Father can no more leave you in the ground than He could His only Son.
Look for the resurrection of the dead. The Latin has expectamus. Expect the resurrection of the dead. Expect the resurrection of every last person who ever died; expect that those dying in Christ rise as He did: with Sin, Devil, and Death only a memory. Expect that your grave will be no more than a temporary resting place for your body. Expect as George McDonald said that a Christian goes into his grave as content as a tired child to his bed.
McDonald compares a child hearing the sound of his toys being put away to the sound of his coffin settling on the earth and dirt falling on the lid. He says that it doesn't have the same hollow rattle within the coffin that it has at the edge of the grave (Phantastes, 180). It sounds different in the ears of those whose mouths have been joyfully confessing, "And I look for the resurrection of the dead." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Resurrection of Our Lord (20120408); I Corinthians 15:22