Where Are You Looking?
A stand up comedian I once saw remarked on, when you're looking for something you've lost like your keys or checkbook, how stupid is the phrase “It's always in the last you look”. “Oh no. I found it hours ago! But I decided to keep looking for it anyways. Next time I lose something, I'm going to find the thing I need and then look in three other places, just so when some guy goes, 'It's always in the last place you look,' I can say, 'Nope. Not this time. You are wrong now.'” But we're all looking for something in life, and I'm not just talking about keys. We all want a place where we belong. We want to honest and open about who we are. We want to know things, to sleep well each day knowing we did right, to have control over our lives, to get where we are going, to find happiness or whatever else it is that you personally seek. It's an obvious point to make: of course everyone is looking for something, whether it's looking for meaning or looking for love in all the wrong places. Of course we're all looking: there's a hunger in all of us for something more than just living. But are we honest about what it really is we're seeking? Do we know where to look for it? Odds are, it'll always be in the last place we look.
In Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, some female disciples of Jesus go out to the tomb housing his corpse to properly prepare him for burial, since with his death so close to ancient Israel's day of required rest they could not properly care for him until now. The women bring their burial spices to ready Christ's body for a funeral, when two angels in dazzling clothes appear and ask, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen.” Later that same day, two other disciples, assuming that with his death this whole Jesus thing is over now, are heading away from Jerusalem towards a village called Emmaus when a stranger joins their walk. Striking up a conversation with the newcomer, the two disciples explain how they had pinned their hopes on Jesus to be the Messiah and how discouraged and disappointed they were now that he was dead. The stranger replies, “How foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe what the prophets said! Don't you know the Messiah must suffer such things and then enter into glory?” Back in Jerusalem meanwhile, the Apostle Peter, hearing the reports from the female disciples at the tomb, runs out to where Jesus was buried, likewise finds it empty, and wanders home filled with wonder, awe, and confusion over what has happened. The rest of the male disciples do not believe the reports from the women, as their was severe prejudice against women's credibility as witnesses back in Roman times. Jesus' followers, whether at the tomb, on the road, or hiding out in Jerusalem, all of them are left in confusion after his death, looking for Jesus but not finding him. He's not even in the last place they looked!
All Lent—that 40 day Christian season of repentance and fasting building up towards today's Easter holiday—our church looked at a different Biblical insight on evil each week. In each of those instances, we saw how the Bible paints evil—whether it be temptation or oppression or addiction or injustice or anything else—evil as a force that's hard to escape. To review just a few of the weeks, evil as tyranny can quite literally keep people in chains, unable to live the lives God meant them to have because of others' injustice. And the moral debts of sin cannot always be repaid with a simple “I'm sorry” to those we've wronged, for some things are too broken for us mortals to repair. And sin-seen-as-corruption means that even the best things in life often have a bitter-sweetness, however small. It’s no accident the #1 response to the internet search for “lottery winner advice” be: “If you win the lottery, hide.” Because even that moment of triumph is soured by the presence of evil, as greed over lotto winnings has time and again makes friends, family, and strangers alike turn on each other. Even should we reach our dreams and find them exactly as we dreamed, the sad reality of life in a sin-stricken world is that nothing lasts forever, for we are mortal and doomed to die one day. Moreover, just as every prophet hid their eyes from the Lord's presence, we find that the reality of sin makes even the most holy among us unable to approach the throne of the Almighty. We were made in the image of God and to be in relationship with God, but the consequences of evil have put us at war with the Lord, with the world, with each other, and with our very selves.
After Jesus died on the cross, his disciples scattered to look for various things now that the Lord they followed for so long was gone. The women looked for Jesus' corpse in the tomb to properly bury him. The pair walking to Emmaus probably looked for a way home. The male disciples in Jerusalem looked for a place to hide. Peter looked to see what the women were talking about but left confused. All these folks who have followed Jesus so long are looking but not finding. And so the angels at the tomb ask those powerful words of the women of scripture and of us today: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why do you look for a new life in Emmaus when the Lord of life is right before you? Why do you seek to find meaning in meaningless things? Why set your hope on things that will fade away in time? Why do you try to earn forgiveness when it can only be freely given? Why do you try to find lasting life from things that give no nourishment?” We all look for something in this world but so often fail to find what we need. Or as the Rolling Stones put it: “I can't get no satisfaction. 'Cause I try, and I try, and I try... But I can't get no satisfaction.”
Yet the good news of Easter is that, for all our looking in all the wrong places, for all our missteps and mistakes and misdeeds, no matter our history or our sins... the good news of Easter is not that we find Jesus... but that Jesus finds us. The two disciples traveling to Emmaus had given up all hope in Jesus being the Messiah. But Jesus found them in their despairing walk, he taught them, and when he blessed and shared a meal with them... then they realized that the Lord they were searching for had found them instead. The female disciples sought Jesus at the tomb, while the men sought to hid. But it was while they were talking about all they had seen, trying to piece together the puzzle of it all, as they were debating, Luke's gospel tells us, “Jesus himself stood among them and greeted them with, 'Peace be with you.'” Even having been found by their Lord, the disciples don't see him for who he is. Instead, they imagine that—since Jesus died on a cross—that this appearance of him must an undead ghost haunting them. And so Jesus takes it a step further by proving his living humanity to them, letting his disciples touch and see that he is the man they knew. And at last—having looked all over and not found, having even been found but not understanding—at last Jesus in Luke's gospel makes his disciples found. On their own, they would still be wandering empty tombs, walking to still further towns, hiding in their locked house from Roman guards, seeing ghosts and spirits instead of angels and the living Lord. But because our redemption doesn't rely on us finding God but on God finding us, because salvation doesn't rest on my ability to seek but on Christ's desire to claim me as his own, because the lessons of Easter are not about how good or smart I am but about how loving and wise God is. The disciples sought the living among the dead, yet their newly-alive Lord found them and called them home even so.
Is it not the same for us? We all yearn for something more than this life, than just being born, earning a paycheck, and one day dying. In the midst of that searching and striving, it's not so much that we find God but that God finds us as we're muddling through. When I committed to faith as an adult, I wasn't looking for God per se. I was looking for my place in the world, somewhere I could fit in. That hunger for acceptance led me down some dark paths that I’m not proud of. But God found me, showed me that the thing I was seeking was found in him all along, that the greatest acceptance and peace came not from others tolerating my existence or finding me particularly charming but from knowing I was beloved by God, even in my lowest moments. Paul the Apostle was hunting down Christians when Christ found him and revealed the glory of God, teaching Paul that the holiness he sought to defend by persecuting Christians was actually found in the Risen Lord they worshiped. Many who grew up in the church perhaps knew God all their lives and so were continuously experiencing that sense of being-found-by-God across their lives. C.S. Lewis, the author whose books our Lenten study explored these past few weeks, began as an atheist who yearned to know the truth about this world, and in his search for truth, Lewis found Jesus who calls himself the Way, the Truth, and Life. I think in many ways God has the habit of using those needs, that yearning we all have for something more, to point us towards eternity and the Lord who truly has what we need in hand. Because as we seek—whether it be acceptance, or healing, or food, or life, or wisdom, or riches, or whatever—God often surprises us by finding us in the middle of our searching and showing us that what we really desired all along was in him. Or as mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal remarked, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”
We're all looking for something in this life, something more than life-as-it-is, whether it be forgiveness from guilt and sins, justice at last for the oppressed, wisdom to know the truth, or the hope of eternal life. The story of Easter is a story of us looking all over for such things—whether it be the disciples of old looking in dusty tombs for the Living God or us today looking to fill that God-shaped hole in our hearts with any number of distractions—a story of us looking all over... and then God finding us instead. So when you feel hopeless,when you feel weighed down by guilt or grief, when you can't see the way forward, in short when you feel lost... know that the joy of Easter is that God finds us in the midst of such things. That God conquers even death itself that we might be with him forever, that in God we might find all we were ever made for. For Christ is risen indeed! Amen.