Why Do You Look for the Living Among the Dead?

 Text: Luke 24

Reginald Bibby says most Canadians, on most Sundays, know exactly which church they’re not worshiping in.  God help anybody messing with their tomb for Jesus.  Who got the most maudlin about 74 Frederick?  People long absent from the life of Trinity, who no longer, if they ever did, share its work.

 They write in the Record, or pontificate as politicians, about all the civic goods we used to represent - but God knows they don’t tithe, and resist personal tax.  Politicians cry crocodile tears about change, and gleefully take the new property tax revenue for the old sites, without funding what they allege is lost.

 We like to drive by our tomb of choice, to make sure the dead body is where we left it, as tragic and pathetic as ever. Last year, it was abandoned derelict building, subject to vandalism and fires. This year, it’s a deep hole at Duke and Frederick, and I feel relief, not regret, that risks to people are averted.

 One story has ended, the next not yet begun. ‘Church is just like that’, they say.  Mean, vicious, a subculture of resentment, as bullies hurt victims in front of bystanders?  That’s not my church – must it be this church? 

 Necrophilia is an unhealthy attachment to death, fetishing objects which might be associated with former feelings.  Remember the old funeral home ‘viewing’, surrounded by lilies, with embalmed bodies, with bad clown make up, and puffed coiffure – the ultimate “church ladies”?

 In 2017, a wee Trinity committee equivocated and dithered on about 400 names, attaching euphemisms like ‘non-resident’ or ‘inactive’ to long-gone alumni.  Denial is not just a river in Egypt – that is not a living faith community of 400, but a list for whom the remaining custodians purport to speak.

 Our old built form of a 1910 building with mid-century additions, reflected celebration, service, and learning, marks of living church.  Our United Church championed the social welfare state, outsourcing health, education, and welfare to the public sector or secular nonprofits – but we seem to have lost the thread of remaining meaning and purpose for the body and spirit of church.

 One pompous generation closed out the last century and began this one, posturing as if they were still providing the old civic leadership.  They still hang around, dropping off one by one as they acknowledge that they have no credible faith.  Their kids have long since called them on their lack of integrity.

 According to Luke, the women go to the tomb first, with spices for a smelly body. The absence of the body scares them, but mysterious figures in shining robes ask them: 

Why seek the living among the dead? He is not here. 

The women set out to visit the tomb, to care for the body, to show respect for the tragic, pathetic evidence of a failed revelation. The evidence contradicted the expected theology of glory.  The empty tomb gave cognitive dissonance – they did not yet have a new hypothesis.

 Peter, at least, goes to check, and recognizes the absence, and follows the women in the hermeneutical circle of dissonance, suspicion of conventional wisdom, and reconstruction of a new hypothesis.  Does he go out to proclaim? Does he sing hallelujah? Nope, he is amazed, and just goes home.  He has messed up, and needs a serious reboot before he can lead again.

 Did this whole thing start out as visiting a tomb? Or did it start out with sharing life, and hope, with Jesus in community, feeding and healing and teaching truth? Where do you go to find Jesus, if the tomb is empty? We go to the place we met it first, he kind of place we will find it again, out in Galilee of the Gentiles – not in the Jerusalem temple: celebrating, serving, learning.

 If you’re not out there trying to learn, and help, and celebrate, you won’t need to come back, to circle back to refresh and equip, recalibrate your GPS that takes you to an empty hole.  The women were sent back around a hermeneutical circle to remember what this was all about: unexpected cognitive dissonance, confusion about the object of our care, loss of focus on fuzzy feelings.

 A religion of immortality needs no tomb. Immortal, a godlike one can’t die – but is inhuman. Movements that focus on tragic heroism need tombs. Lenin lay embalmed for decades of spectators, and a form of necrophilia. Not my church.

 Easter is more than a curriculum to be ‘covered’ like productive training in the ‘multiversity’.  Paulo Freiere’s banking theory of education debunked “knowing” as ownership or possession of factoids.  Learning is a process of sharing, familiar to healthy living communities of faith.  We can still learn eh?

 Easter is more than helping services to be ‘provided’ to the ‘truly needy’ by the dehumanizing ‘agencies’ looking for ‘clients’.   Instrumental construction of roles reduces us all from our heritage as a mutual self-help movement among differently-abled people.  We may need help ourselves, and not be ‘clients’.

 Easter is more than celebration reduced to ‘entertainment’, by performers to be judged, for spectators to consume.  Art and aesthetic is not just marketable commodities, but participation in childish and childlike experiences of passion – which by the way equips us for the compassion of our mutual self-help.

 Easter is a comedy of hope, where the end reveals a beginning, space between what’s gone, and what’s not yet.  Don’t just visit the tomb today, to make sure the pathetic body still stinks a bit, to give it a tip with some spices: 

Why seek the living among the dead? He is not here.

 What do you covet for yourself – and your kids?  Will our children have faith?  Will our faith have children?  You can buy another trip to Holy Land – still refuse to pay a carbon offset for your huge footprint - but you won’t have a clue about resurrection.  Travel agents commodify selfies that show ‘I was there’ – but fail to improve your humanity or your virtue. 

 You might - just might – acknowledge cognitive dissonance – ‘I don’t know’.  You might keep company with differently abled – ‘learning to be human’, rather than ‘drop-and-run’ delivery of lilies to ‘shut-ins’, while dreading the inevitable moment when you will be labelled the same way.  You might celebrate simple beauty rather than paying more mercenaries to sing for their supper.

Reginald Bibby says most Canadians, on most Sundays know exactly which church they’re not worshiping in.  God help anybody messing with their tomb for Jesus.  We like to drive by our tomb of choice, to make sure the dead body is where we left it, as tragic and pathetic as ever. Last year, it was abandoned derelict building, subject to vandalism and fires. This year, it’s a deep hole at Duke and Frederick, and I feel relief, not regret, that risks to people are averted.

One story has ended, the next not yet begun. ‘Church is just like that’, they say.  Mean, vicious, a subculture of resentment, as bullies hurt victims in front of bystanders?  That’s not my church – must it be this church?  God forbid.