Madonna House

I Used to Believe in Jesus, But Then He Rose From the Dead!

by Fr. David May

Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? (Luke 24:5)

This is the question that sets the tone for all of Easter, and ultimately for the entire life of faith. Why, indeed? Why is it we seek the Lord in the wrong places? And how do I tell a “right” place from a “wrong” place?!

It seems from the Resurrection accounts that the only wrong place is … the tomb! Locked rooms are no obstacle, nor the garden outside the tomb. Jerusalem works, so does Galilee, either mountain or lakeshore. And the roadways work fine as well, at least the one going to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Only “the tomb” is definitively out.

That got me thinking about “the tomb” and “tombs” in general. Obviously, Jesus would never be found again in the tomb where his body was laid on Good Friday. Tombs are for the dead only, and someone alive would have no desire to remain there.

As soon as he rose from the dead, Jesus apparently left the tomb, having completed his mission there.

Tombs work well as memorials to the dead, but they don’t have much to offer the living, and certainly not Him who is Life itself! For one alive, the only thought is: I want out of here!

A tomb might also be looked at as a sort of container for the dead. It seems to me that before ever being laid in an actual tomb, those who opposed him (and in some way that includes all of us) were often trying to contain him in a kind of “tomb” of their own manufacture:

“Don’t heal on the Sabbath!” “Don’t eat with tax collectors and sinners!” “How dare you forgive sinners!” “No picking corn on the Sabbath!”

At one point, the Lord compared such people to tombs—with bones and corruption inside, though whitewashed and shiny on the outside! Such people wanted Jesus exiled from the land of the living. In other words, they wanted him dead and gone.

But he came back instead! And his angel says to us what he said to the women so long ago: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Or, in other words, why do you try to contain Jesus in “tombs” and containers of your own making?

He is not here! He is risen as he promised! He is always leaving the containers you make so that you can reduce him to your own measure and even control who he is. He is the living One, he is Life itself and cannot be contained!

Have you ever been led by the Lord to examine your tomb collection, that is to say your “Jesus containers” by which you gauge whether Jesus is with you or not?

At one time such containers seemed like reasonable ideas, fitting signs of his presence. But the Jesus in such places (if he ever was there) one day dies, then rises to a new world, a new vision of things, the kingdom. But will I follow him here?

My collection comes under the title, “I used to believe … ” The litany goes something like this:

I used to believe that Jesus was with me if …

I could answer all my letters in reasonable time … but he left that place.

My health was not compromised … but he left that place.

I could pray at the same time every day … but he left that place.

I could find a way to help all those seeking my counsel, but he left that place.

I could be depended upon to complete any task assigned, but he left that place.

I had reasonable hope of overcoming this fault and that, but he left that place.

I had time and energy to write poetry, but he left that place.

I could become the contemplative soul I’ve longed to be, but he left that place.

I slept a certain number of hours each night, but he left that place.

And so forth …

In each instance Jesus “died” and “rose” and went away, and I have been challenged once again to seek him whom my heart loves, in strange (to me) places “even to the ends” of the world I’ve always known.

What is that “new world” like? Here I write not as someone who always lives there, but only as a beginner.

In this New World, I must continually decrease, and he must increase. Take letters, for example. They must be shorter, simpler, more to the essence and less of my own cleverness; or if I can’t get to them at all, begging the Lord in prayer to himself intervene. After all, he is risen!

With various ailments to look after, that means time spent organizing daily meds, doing certain kinds of exercise, finding a way to rest, and trusting the Lord will do through trusting him what I cannot do myself. Another way to put this: in weakness, claim the victory!

And so it goes down the litany: when I have had to give up something, or lose it for a time, the Lord offers something else as a gift—if I am accepting of a death which leads to new life, unanticipated life, His vision of life, more him, less myself.

All this means passing through the sea of fears: will there be anything for me in the end? Am I heading for complete diminishment, nothingness, or at least irrelevance? Or will I meet the Lord in a new Promised Land, an unanticipated Galilee?

Such is the Easter offer of faith. We have nothing (in the end), but in the risen Lord we have everything. For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power. (Colossians 2: 9-10).

Jesus, I trust in you… . . The rest is emptiness and loss, but you are the Fountain of Life itself, and in your light, we see the light! Christ is truly risen, alleluia!