Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
I don’t know how many of you ever met Bob Skinner, but if you never met him, I just want you to think of the strongest, most invincible seeming person you know.
Bob was a priest of this diocese, longtime rector of Emmanuel Church in Webster Groves. Bob was a mountain of a man, full of passion and love but also with a power to his personality and temper that could shake foundations of buildings. Bob was an edifice. A tower you could scarcely imagine ever being toppled. A booming voice it seemed nothing on heaven or earth could silence.
Think of the strongest, most invincible seeming person you know… and that was Bob Skinner. Bob, it seemed, is, was and always would be.
But of course, he wasn’t. Nobody is. But somehow it was still unbelievable when Bob got sick and began to die. Maybe if it had been a sudden death, a car crash or even a heart attack, it would have been easier to wrap our brains around – the starkness of it somehow matching Bob’s own boldness. The one great punch that knocks out the heavyweight champ.
But death came for Bob slowly. And instead of the one great punch, we watched this mountain of a man slowly erode. Never losing his dignity. Never losing the power of his love. But physically crumbling before our eyes. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you. You’ve seen it happen to someone, too. And if you haven’t, well, someday you will.
And as I watched Bob grow weaker and weaker, this icy realization grew in my heart. That if death could brick by brick take down a tower like Bob Skinner, there truly was no corner of life that death could not touch.
Emmanuel Church was packed for Bob’s funeral and I was lucky to grab a seat up in the choir loft. And I looked down and saw his wife Susie, who was actually our preacher here at the Cathedral this past Maundy Thursday. Susie had taken over for Bob as priest in charge at Emmanuel when he became too sick to function but this afternoon she was in the traditional spot of the widow on the aisle seat of the front row, dressed in black.
The service began and Bishop Rockwell processed down the aisle saying the words of the burial anthem, “I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.” And I felt this disconnect. I believed the words, but I think there was a piece of all of us that couldn’t believe we were there. Couldn’t believe that Bob was gone, and more than that no matter how much we sang of the resurrection, we couldn’t help have our hearts pulled toward this giant Bob-sized hole in the midst of us. Couldn’t help but wonder what does resurrection look like when we know that Bob is never coming back?
The service continued, and at the peace I looked down again to where Susie had been sitting and saw her seat empty. I figured maybe it had all been too much for her, and she had gone out for a breath of air. But then as the offertory began, I looked down again. The first thing I noticed was Bob and Susie’s son, Robert, coming up the aisle carrying the bread for the Eucharist. And as he approached the altar, I saw that splayed across that table was the quilt with the handprints of hundreds of Emmanuel parishioners that they had made for Bob and laid on his sickbed and that had kept him warm in his dying days. And finally, well, all I can say is that as we all stood, Susie just appeared behind the altar, a brilliant white chasuble covering her mourner’s clothes.
And she looked up, and with the slightest tremor in her voice she called out to us “The Lord be with you.”
“And also with you” we replied, really somewhat tentatively. I think we were all still in shock over her appearing behind the altar.
“Lift up your hearts,” she beckoned us, her voice growing stronger.
“We lift them to the Lord.” We cried back, feeling stronger too. Feeling like with each syllable our hearts really were being lifted.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” She finally proclaimed.
And what did we sing? You know it. Yes! “It is right to give God thanks and praise.”
And in that moment my question was answered. In that moment, I knew what resurrection looked like. Because as surely as Bob’s death had shown us that there was there was truly no corner of life that death could not touch, Susie lovingly, passionately, and even defiantly was showing us that there was truly no depth of death out of which new life could not spring. Resurrection looked … and sounded … like us. Singing. Together.
Why do you look for the living among the dead?
These strange men at the tomb ask this question almost mockingly of these women who had faithfully come early in the morning to prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
There’s almost a cruelty to the question. Almost a sneering “What, are you stupid? Didn’t you know this is what you would find?’ when nobody in their right mind would have expected to see that stone rolled away and the tomb empty.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they ask, as if they wanted to add a healthy dose of shame to their already almost paralyzing grief.
You know, I have to wonder if those women had one of “those moments” when they were leaving the tomb that morning. You know, one of those moments where you think of the perfect response, the great zinger to say back to someone who has just zinged you … only you think of it when you’re walking away and the moment has long passed.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? I’ll tell you why, I’ll bet they wished they said. “I’ll tell you why. Because that’s what Jesus did. Because that’s what God does.”
Why do you look for the living among the dead? "Because," those women should have said. "That’s where Jesus found us."
And that’s where Jesus finds us still.
Our funeral liturgy sings an eternal truth. In the midst of life we are in death. But nobody needs to tell us that. We know it oh so well. Much too well. We know it because we have all been there. Because we all are there.
We’ve all had death happen where life seemed at its most invincible. We have had the people we love the most hurt us the deepest. And we have suffered the silent agony of knowing we have done the same. We have lost jobs we thought were secure and friendships we thought would never end. We have watched marriages we thought were unassailable crumble and oceans grow between us and someone in the same bed and across the same dinner table.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Because that’s where God finds us. With parents who seemed like they would always be there for us who now look at us with unrecognizing eyes. With children whom we would give everything for, who tell us cuttingly they want no part of us. At the bedside of the one to whom we pledged till death do us part, as we face what life on the other side of that might be.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Because that’s where God finds us. Not in our moments of triumph but our darkest hours. When we have run out of ways to pretend to everyone else and even ourselves that it’s all OK. When we honestly can’t figure out how we’re going to make it through one more minute much less one more day or week or year. When as it did when those shots rang out at the Lorraine Motel 42 years ago today it looked as if the dream was as inexplicably and suddenly dead as the dreamer.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? Because that’s where Jesus looks for us. And those women knew it … and that’s why they came to that tomb that Sunday. And I have to believe that there’s a piece of that quest that has drawn each one of us here this Easter morning.
Because while it’s true that in the midst of life we are in death, the only greater truth, the deep song that has been sung since the beginning of time is that in the midst of all our deaths we are also in life. And that’s what God in the risen Christ does. Meets us in that place of death and breathes life into us and calls life out of us. Meets us in the moments of deepest despair and gazes into our eyes and whispers in our ears, “Lift up your hearts.”
And so we gather at the empty tomb this morning to sing as passionately and defiantly as Susie did that day that we will lift up our hearts. That as Christ’s body in the world, we will not cower from death but will continue to look for the living among the dead. We will stand with each other in our deepest pain. We will hold each other up when our hearts are too broken to stand. We will believe for each other in those moments where individually we just can’t manage to believe for ourselves.
We gather at the empty tomb this morning in celebration of what those amazing women were mocked for doing. That we believe that God even today yearns to reach into the places deepest in us where we thought that hope had gone to die and show us that there is no place in heaven, on earth or in the deepest, loneliest corners of our hearts where hope and love cannot live again. That there is no death so devastating or grave so deep that it can silence the song God sings to us and through us.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.