SEARCHING THE LIFE AMONG THE DEAD
I Cor. 15:20-26, Psalm 118, Luke 24:1-12
and John 20:1-18
April 19, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
There was a man, a lonely man. He was a senior civil servant in a city hall. His burning ambitions, passionate love, and sweet dreams all failed him, with nothing but bitter disappointments, a broken heart, and cynicism. He now lived by the recipe for a successful civil servant: "Never miss work. Never late to work. Do nothing." At forty-eight, he was only looking forward to retirement and time looking at his stamp collection. One day a doctor told him that he had only a few months to live. Despair and hopelessness overtook his life; he became pickled in alcohol.
One morning after a night in town, he found himself waking up on a strange bed in what looked like a shabby rooming house. A child brought him a cup of coffee. She was selling roses in the bar last night. Her mother had already gone to work, she said. He watched the girl playing with a cheap stuffed monkey he gave her. He picked it up somewhere in his drunken stupor. He was moved to see how the girl was absorbed in the play with the cheap dollar store stuffed animal. She looked utterly happy talking with a monkey in her pretend home. She looked so much alive. It was her very first toy in her entire life. He realized then that he was with people who lived in a slum area of town. A few years ago, the residents of this area asked the city to provide a playground for children. Their petition was sitting in his file for years. He had had no intention to do anything about it. But that morning, he became a changed man. He was late to work, because he had to look at all possible sites for the playground, before he got to the office. He ordered the Parks Department to draw up a plan and make a cost estimate, immediately. He encouraged the residents of the area to organize themselves and start lobbying the mayor and the key city councillors. He pestered his superiors to move things faster. He stepped on far too many toes and annoyed everybody. They thought that his thus-far-safe career in the city hall was ruined.
On the day of the official opening, the mayor came, gave a speech and cut the ribbon. After everybody went home, the now-very-sick man and the girl were on the swing, swinging back and forth, singing the old Japanese favourite, "Life is short, let us fall in love." Everybody remembered "that man" in the city hall, whenever they came to the park. Death made him more alive in people”s mind. But nobody remembered anything he did during his twenty-five year career in the city hall before the playground.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that there are some dead people though may be dead, can still be very much alive and continue to communicate with the living. On the other hand, a person may be biologically alive, but is, in truth, as dead as the dry bones. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ was the first person who died physically, but is very much alive among us today.
The Jewish people believed that at death absolutely everything was over. Many people do not realize that the ancient Jews did not believe in the life after death. Life after death was an ancient Egyptian belief. Read the Old Testament carefully. You will not find the notion of life after death in it. At death one entered into nothing – void. This is why the Hebrew word "Hell" in the Old Testament is the same word for "Death – sheol." Because life ended with death, they treasured this life very much. They tried to live life – here and now as fully as possible, because to them this life was their only chance. So, they tried very hard to live this life in the best way possible. They enjoyed all the pleasures of life with gusto. But also they tried to do it right so as not to waste it. This was why the law became the very important guide to them.
This was how they came to the conclusion that the life that was wasted without joy and without purpose was not worth living; you might as well be dead. Also they decided in the same logic that sin was the same as death. Life is so precious that it had to be lived correctly and fully. Authentic life and death were not the same as biological life and death. Jesus Christ was the first fruit of the authentic life that did not die with biological death. He loved people completely. He enjoyed life, too. You notice how many times the Bible mentions about Jesus at the banquets, and about a dinner in his parables. He knew how to live fully and joyfully by loving people absolutely.
It is ironical. Isn”t it? Because he loved people unconditionally, he had to die. The society could not tolerate such love. So the people who had vested interest in the existing system had to kill him. People who hold power hate changes. But because Jesus truly lived by loving others, death did not have the last word. We can not prove this scientifically, but we know he is alive today. In Jesus Christ, we find a genuine life that travels back and forth between the biological divide of life and death.
There is not much point looking for the living among the dead. Mary came to the tome to embalm the dead body. But she did not find it. She was weeping by the empty tome. She didn”t know what to do; she was lost. It was only when she turned around in the direction of the voice of an unknown person, she saw a life truly living – the life that was not defeated by sin which tried to exterminate love; she met the risen Christ.
In the desert of the Western Sudan, many women and children were trying desperately to eke out meagre living on the perched dry sand. Their husbands and fathers are either missing or dead during the two decade long civil war. But life goes on despite the stupid greedy and power hungry men who don”t want to make peace. Men, who are determined to keep fighting for power, caused the two decade long civil war, which gave people nothing but misery, poverty, and death.
Women used to cultivate land when they were living among the green lush hills and fresh water lakes of the Southern Sudan. Now the dry sand of the refugee camps in the Sahara desert does not allow them to grow food as they used to at home. Only way they know how, to make a living in such a situation was to make beer out of sorghum and sell it. There are many thirsty men who buy it, though it is illegal under the Islamic law to consume alcohol. The prisons are full of women who were caught selling beer. So the church has been teaching them the different ways to make living; making soap out of palm oil and crushed lime stones, tie and dye cotton material, and sewing clothes. The church has a rotating loan fund providing them with money to buy sewing machines and start up their own businesses. Some of them started to crush peanuts into butter while waiting for customers and sold them besides dresses and materials. Others collect frankincense in the desert and sell it besides their tie and dye. Their children are now fed and have change of clothes now. There is life in the desert. Children are laughing and running in the dry land.
Jesus conquered death, not in the battle ground or in the forum of politics, but by loving people absolutely. That”s why Jesus is alive today, tomorrow, and forever. Hallelujah!