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Why seek ye the living among the dead?

THAT morning must have been cold and drab. Why should it not be? Even the warmest sunshine would not be able to chase away the clouds of gloom or melt away the iciness of a heart that has witnessed the tragic events of not too long ago.

What in God’s name could have caused a nation to crucify a miracle worker, a prophet, a herald of God’s kingdom, a person who has shown us God’s gracious love to sinners? What mania has suddenly seized our leaders to contrive such an unjust act? To add insult to injury, this person was hurriedly put in a tomb without being properly embalmed. Is this how a nation, elected by God, should treat one of its more illustrious sons?

With painful steps, the women may have made their way to the tomb of Jesus, thinking those thoughts. And hoping to do whatever little they could for one who did so much for them, they brought with them spices in order to embalm His dead body on the first day of the week (Luke 24.1-8). Imagine their surprise when they saw two men in clothes that shone like lightning asking the most innocuous of questions: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?” Indeed, who in his right mind will ever look for the living among the dead?

The account in Luke probably intends us to understand that question as a form of playful irony to remind the women that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that was why they were in the wrong place if they wanted to look for Him. He is the living one and how could they ever believe that the bars of death could hold Him?

What reply the women might have given is not recorded for us. Perhaps they were too shocked for words: shocked by what they saw, by what they heard and by their own failure to remember Jesus’ words. Jesus is raised from the dead, hallelujah!
However, the question of the angels also prompts a thought in me. If I were to be so bold as to voice it as an answer, I am quite sure the angels would have approved of it. I may not want to seek the Living One in a tomb, thinking that He is dead. But I want to seek the Living One, whom death cannot hold, who chooses to be among the dead.

Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost said just as much. He whom death could not hold did die in God’s plan (Acts 2.23-4). In his sermon in Acts 3, he made a similar claim: Jesus being the author of life was put to death (3.15). The one answer to the anomaly in his claim is that the Living One chooses to be among the dead as one of them in order that the dead will die no more. This is the glorious message of Easter. It is not just about who Jesus is but also what He is for us.

The vision John saw on the Lord’s day on the island of Patmos says just as much. The Son of Man in that vision proclaims Himself to be the First and the Last (Rev 1.17-18). These are titles uniquely belonging to Yahweh in the Old Testament (Isaiah 44.6; 48.12). However, this Son of Man also proclaims Himself to be the Living One who once died but is alive forevermore. What’s happening here?

The point is that there is a new disclosure of who God really is. God is not to be known simply as the Omnipotent One who could do all things and rule over all things. He is also the one, as Jesus the Messiah, who experienced death for us in order to redeem us. Hereafter, there cannot be any talk of God without also talk of Calvary and Easter. Praise be to God! He is not just the Living One; He is also the Living One who was with the dead. And we who were dead in trespasses and sins, dead by the devices of our own making, dead and, consequently, could not rescue ourselves, the Living One came to be among us, died for and with us, and raised us to new life when He conquered death.

And if Jesus the Messiah, being the First and the Last, is the Living One among the dead, may we say that the one place where God can really be found will be where the dead are? Not in places where people pretend to live. Not in places where the illustrious imagine themselves immortals. But in places where the air of death hangs heavily. In places where the chips are down, where hopes are crushed and where there are no friends left except the dead themselves.

He, the Living One, is there among them not because death is His name and morbidity His game. He is there because He will not abandon us in our deaths. Yea, though we walk through the valley of death, we will fear no evil. For thou, the Living One, art with us.

Why seek ye the living among the dead? Kind angelic sirs, if the Living One is not there, the human race is doomed.

Dr Tan Kim Huat, Chen Su Lan Professor of New Testament at Trinity Theological College, is the Dean of Postgraduate Studies.