WHY LOOK FOR THE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118, Mark 16:1-8
April 23, 2000 by Tad Mitsui
A few days ago, my sister and I had a telephone conversation about our visit this summer in Japan. She told me about a party being organized for us by an old friend of mine. Apparently he recently started a Bible study group at his home. This surprised me, because the man I remembered was more interested in making bucks than religion. Apparently, he had a near death experience. His heart stopped. While the medical team was busy trying to revive him, he was outside of his body watching himself on the operating table. He also saw his family and friends huddled together outside of the operating room, and he felt much loved. My sister says that this experience spurred his quest for his spirituality.
This is not an unusual experience. We heard a similar story experienced recently by the leader of NDP in Alberta. She resigned from her seat and began a new life in search of spirituality. Books were written about that kind of near death experiences. There are two common features in those stories: an experience of leaving one”s own body, and an intimate and warm feeling towards the loved ones who surround the body. These stories may not satisfy scientists who demand material evidence, but they do point to the direction towards some kind of existence beyond this material and bodily life. In fact, our belief that Jesus Christ defeated death and came back to life again is the foundation of Christian faith. We do believe in life after death and believe that Christ was the first who came back.
However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that a physical body survives death. Scientists say that all those life after death experiences are the result of brains” momentary glitch caused by a powerful surge of despair or wishful thinking. I believe that this kind of arguments with science is pointless, because we are asking the wrong questions. When someone says that he loves you, you don”t ask him how much money he has right off the bat. It”s simply a wrong question at a wrong time. The message of Christ rising from the dead is not about the fate of our earthly bodies. It is about our life with God. Our life with God goes on beyond death. It is the belief that "Love overcomes death."
The significance of our physical body in our spiritual life will have to be asked sometime, but that is not the most important question to ask on Easter. The Easter message of the Bible is "God will destroy death and wipe away the tears from everybody”s eyes" as Isaiah said, and as an angel said to three women who came to look for Jesus in a tomb, "He is not here. Why look for the living among the dead?" The message of Easter was not about the physical aspect of life and death, but about hope and love that overcome despair.
For the writers of the Bible physical facts were not the point they tried to put across. If you are looking for some physical evidence of resurrection in the Bible, the facts are very confusing and often contradictory. Jesus sometimes had a very physical presence after resurrection in some accounts; eating breakfast of BBQ fish with Peter and Andrew on the beach, and showing Thomas the wounds on his hands. But in other parts, he appeared as a spiritual existence. He went through the locked doors without opening them, could disappear into the thin air after breaking bread in Emmaus, and could appear to three thousand people at the same time. These stories obviously mean to tell us that the risen Christ was in a spiritual body.
Instead of trying to make sense out of contradictory evidence, we should pay more attention to the main theme of the life of Jesus Christ. Because God loved us, Jesus Christ came to the world to live among us by being like us humans. He came to demonstrate his commitment to the love of God by living by it. He could have saved himself from humiliation and the painful death, had he compromised a little. But he didn”t. So, he had to die because he was totally committed to love. The people who do not believe in love get their kick out of defeating others. To them, other people”s death is an ultimate victory, because they believe that death marks the absolute end. But for the people who live by love get their satisfaction in life by sacrificing themselves for others, even at the cost of one”s own life. In the world of love, a grain falls on the ground and rots as it empties itself to bring forth sprouts – a new life. In a world of love, even death can be a sign of victory, because it shows an uncompromising love. We believe this because Christ showed us that death is not the end. The tomb was empty, because he went away to continue his ministry of love.
Christ transformed the meaning of life and death completely. True life is a living by the rules of love. It goes on beyond the end of the physical existence. Life has conquered death in Jesus Christ. In the meantime, death can occur while a process of physical life is still in progress. The life without love is the death appearing to be physically alive. Leo Tolstoy, in one of his children”s stories, spoke about people who breathed death. They were the people without love. They were the "living dead."
Three women went to the tomb where Jesus was laid, discovered the body missing, and ran away. But one of them came back. Her name was Mary Magdalene. She had nothing left in life. Life without Jesus was empty – as good as she was dead, so she came to join the dead at the grave. She did not recognize the living Christ, because she came to find the dead Jesus. It was only when he called her name, she saw the living Jesus. Love is intensely personal. You can not love without a name. And love never dies. So when she felt this intensely intimate moment of love, she could recognized the life which conquered death.
Let us, on this Easter day, renew our resolve to live by love as God commanded. We will taste eternal life, if we know the art of love that never dies. We will feel the presence of Christ who live with us when we believe that.