Seeking the living
"While they were puzzling over the empty tomb, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to the women. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, 'Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised' " (Luke 24:4-6).
"All I want is for Easter to come," a friend said to me last week. Liturgical exhaustion had set in. Lent had been long, and she was ready to go. Bring on the Resurrection. Come on, new life.
Yet as the Easter octave rolls on, I wonder to myself where that life is leading. Warships are gathering, world governments are in disarray, and all I really want is resurrection. New life. Something softer and safer.
That, however, isn't what those women encountered that first morning. The angels, renowned for saying "Do not be afraid" first and foremost to those they encounter in the Gospels, do not pass the same reassurances on to the women at the tomb. These women are terrified and as they go forth, with a story that will be called nonsense by others, the search set before them is only so clear.
In that moment, faith and fear are married in the Resurrection. The message rings out: Belief is not safe. It will push you to search for truth, to forever seek the living beyond the dead.
That is the Easter message I find myself returning to this season: "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?" Better yet: What does it mean to seek the living today? And when I consider my life, what is it that gives me life?
Reflecting on my friend's plea for an end to Lent, I found myself contemplating my own Lenten journey into Holy Week. The past few months have been filled with discernment and transitions: death, dying, fear, frustration and, ultimately (and somewhat surprisingly), freedom.
It's that last stop on the journey — freedom — that leads to new life. Freedom to see the world in a new way or to consider the Spirit moving in an unexpected manner is at the root of following the resurrected Christ, of seeking the living.
During Holy Week, I longed for a deep connection with liturgy but kept coming up short. Nothing seemed to click: Only men had their feet washed, the homiletics were dry, and corners were cut more for efficiency than effect.
By Easter Sunday, I sat quietly, trying to navigate the frustration of desires fallen short. Standing at that tomb, recognizing that the troubles of the world don't transform in a day, I dwelled like the women.
"All I want is for Easter to come," I thought to myself. Where was the life in moments and days that seemed to be devoid of it?
Watching the sun rise, I wondered. Then I thought of the words of those angels: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" And suddenly, figures began to populate the landscape of my soul.
I thought of the community of men religious I shared the beginning of Holy Week with who welcomed me with open arms as truly their sister. I rejoiced in the women I gathered with on a Good Friday morning to create works of artistic beauty and to sift through big questions of life during a prayerful pause on a solemn day. I recalled the presence of each sister I sat beside during those Triduum services who emanated light no matter the doldrums of the circumstances.
These were the living I had sought, and the Living One was among them, living, breathing and moving.
If I was free enough to embrace new life, to take a step back and be free from death, that same Living One would be in me, too.
The first step in bringing forth that life, though, was and is to name what is dead, to see the tombs we stand terrified before, and to have the courage to turn and go out to find life in an otherwise shattered world.
The process does not stop there, though. It can be tempting in our current reality to point to the dead rather than the living, to dwell on the constricting structures that we are part of that keep us from truly being alive or that keep our institutes from reaching their full potential.
Yet Pope Francis reminds us in The Church of Mercy, "How often does Love have to tell us, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead?' Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness ... and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!"
Christ, after all, wasn't resurrected into a perfect world. He returned to the same place and people who had crucified him days before. The world hadn't changed; the life he lived in it did — and that, mixed with the promise of faith fulfilled, made all the difference.
"The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living," Francis recounted in his homily at the Easter Vigil last year." After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. ... As joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love."
Christ is dwelling in our midst these Easter days, and the true process of transformation and resurrection comes when we can find redeeming life in what might otherwise seem quite ordinary. We are called to be living witnesses to a faith that isn't safe or comfortable or even logical. We are a resurrection people. May we find life in death, seeking the living at every turn and never shying away from the call to new life.
[Colleen Gibson is a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as assistant director of campus ministry at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.]