Thrice this week have I encountered the thought “I don’t want to die before I’m dead.”
At the risk of digressing into all manner of generalizing examples of how our lives could fit that statement, suffice it to say that in our fallen world, death and its despairing degenerative darkness contaminates how we think, how we observe and interpret, how we respond, how we hope. Our perceptions of reality are so dampened with drudgery and disappointment on what seems like a daily basis, it’s barely surprising anymore if we do “die” before we’re actually dead. Despair or apathy can often seem to be reality’s only consistent state.
Such was the mindset of the women approaching Jesus’ tomb on the Sunday morning after Passover. They had followed him through villages, heard him teach, saw him heal, began believing he was Messiah, anticipated a political shift during Passover—suddenly, he was dead. No longer alive, no longer a hope, just a dead friend in a dead place. As they approached this place to preserve their friend’s remains, the death within this dark enclosure mirrored the grim, grieving reality dominating their minds. Reality, however, had just changed.
Finding the large tombstone rolled away and Jesus’ body gone, “two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?”
The angels ask this question as if it is they who are truly surprised, perhaps, that living is no longer an adjective resonating with the women’s perception of Jesus. A great many of us go through life as if Jesus is still “among the dead”; not a “living One”, but a memory of one who lies decaying in our minds like the ragged remnants of the worn out cultural Christianity we utilize just to get us through the day. Snatching us from a darkness masquerading as light, the angels’ question both calls our despairing tendencies into question and declares the one single truth that defies such despair—Jesus lives. It’s as if they’re asking “Why are you still holding to an old, dead reality when a new, living one is now what is true and must be inhabited?”
Having declared “He is not here, but He has risen”, the angels then connect the women’s returning hopes to what Jesus had been saying all along: “’Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ And they remembered His words.”
In his predictions, Jesus never denied the darkness he was about to enter; but he did defy its finality. He told them beforehand he was coming back, wanting their faith to defy reality’s darkness. Like their father, Abraham, Jesus wanted his followers to contemplate his own dead body, “yet, with respect to the promise of God…not waver in unbelief but [grow] strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.”
Life disappoints on a daily basis, creating diminishing patterns of thought and habit—cynicisms, self-pity, despair, apathy—that can beat us and our perceptions into hopeless submission. But within this reality lived “among the dead”, there is also a “living One” whose followers “will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
Every step we take this week towards Good Friday is also a step towards Resurrection Sunday; keep walking forward, embodying Jesus’ resurrection in your own life. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection breathes new life into this story we’re often tempted to give up on, raising us from the dead long before we actually die. Holding fast to Jesus’ words and walking forward in that faith keeps us rooted in his resurrection, connected to a Life that takes us to and through the darkness and, ultimately, on and beyond.