Meet Me in Galilee

Delivered by the Rev. Rhonda J. Rubinson
April 16, 2017

Church of the Intercession, NYC

Text:  Matthew 28:1-10

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Happy Easter!  After the long, dark season of Lent, today the sun bursts through the oppressive, confusing, and frightening darkness that accompanied Jesus and us as we walked the Road to Calvary. Finally. The door to the tomb has been blown open, and this morning we rejoice with the news that Christ is alive.  

As it was happening, there seemed to be no sense to Jesus’ suffering.  For about three years Jesus had been a brilliant teacher, a thrilling miracle worker, a healer with no equal, and a cryptic but compelling prophet – yet just when his disciples had dared to believe that he was the One, the Messiah, the Christ – it all had fallen apart in the worst way possible; everything had gone horribly, horribly wrong.

We know that while we are in the midst of a storm, it usually is impossible to make any sense of what’s happening.  But once the storm clears, sometimes it’s possible to gain some perspective, and be able to understand why the storm came and the meaning of the changed landscape it left behind.  Today, at the dawn of Easter Sunday, as the storm of Holy Week pulls away, we can see clearly what God was aiming for all along:  resurrection, the defeat of the most awful, intransigent, hopeless part of the human condition, death. 

Jesus was dead and buried.  The men – sorry gentlemen – had fled, leaving the women to on the one hand accept the reality of Jesus’ death, while on the other hand continuing to do what should be done anyway.  Their coming to Jesus’ tomb is a powerful testimony to both their pragmatism and the embers of hope that were still flickering in their souls.  Maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story – but even if it was the end, well then what was right before Jesus died is still right now that he is dead, and so there are mourning prayers to be prayed, worship still to perform, respect and honor to show Jesus in the grave.

But what greets the two Marys at the tomb is beyond even their wildest imaginings – first, another big earthquake – remember the one that accompanied Jesus’ death? – then the shocking sight of a huge luminous angel rolling back the stone covering the tomb.  This angel then plunks himself down on top of the stone to have a chat with the women.  No wonder the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid!” – then he tells them that Jesus isn’t in the tomb anymore.  He is alive!  He follows this shocking statement with something that is not so much surprising as odd:  Jesus has decided to travel, he’s gone already: he has left Jerusalem and set out for Galilee.

Once this strange  “Elvis has left the building”- type statement sinks in, we immediately ask:  why?  Jesus’ trial, suffering, death, and burial all took place in the immensely visible power center of Jerusalem, within site of the Temple.  But instead of remaining in Jerusalem to show everyone, including those who had convicted, tortured, and murdered him that he had defeated them instead of the other way around, Jesus heads for the ‘burbs.  

The angel goes on to give instructions to the women about what they are now to do – go find the men and tell them that the tomb is empty and that Jesus is headed to Galilee. Then they are all supposed to go to Galilee, where Jesus is planning to meet up with them.

The women believe the angel and dutifully, joyfully run off to find the disciples.  They must have been running really fast because they catch up to Jesus, who repeats the angel’s instructions almost word for word, complete with “Do not be afraid”; and he repeats: find the guys and  “Go to Galilee.”

What’s in Galilee?  Well, there is a mountain there that Jesus has chosen for their meeting place, and we all know that mountains are the traditional places for theophanies, that is, appearances of God.  And it is a relatively secluded area where Jesus and his disciples have been on retreats before.  

But perhaps most important, Galilee was home to both Jesus and disciples.  Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, and he called his apostles from that area.  Jerusalem, by contrast, was a special place that was anything but home: the place that Jews were required to go make pilgrimage to three times a year for major festivals.  By choosing Galilee over Jerusalem, Jesus was bringing the resurrection right to where his friends and disciples lived.  He was bringing the resurrection home.

Now, when the disciples had left Galilee to go to Jerusalem for that fateful Passover festival, they left their homes and their circumstances in a particular state, like all of us when we go on a trip.  And even as they returned to their homes after the resurrection, to all outward appearances nothing would have changed.  Despite what they had learned from the women about the empty tomb and the report by those same women of actually seeing Jesus alive, when they opened the doors to their homes, the furniture would still be the same, their bank accounts wouldn’t have improved any, and if there would troubled relationships with family and neighbors before they left, those would not necessarily have changed.  More to the point, no one expected anything at home to change.
My sisters and brothers, when we leave here today, we too will go out of these doors to a world that to all outward appearances also hasn’t changed.  When we look at our lives, the circumstances most likely will be the same as when we left the house this morning.  It would be very easy for us to leave resurrection behind here in church, our special place, our “Jerusalem.”  But Jesus, with his very first act out of the grave says, no – I’ll see you at home. Meet me in Galilee.  
Go back to the place where you live – go to the place where it all started. Galilee was the very place that the disciples began their journey with Jesus.  That’s also true of Jesus himself.  The Jordan River where Jesus was baptized flows through the Sea of Galilee, so Jesus is making a point of returning where he himself began.

Look at your own journey with Jesus, and see if you can remember when you began to walk with Jesus – maybe it was when your Momma took you to church as a youngster.  With me, my starting point was definitely the day I made the decision to baptized as an adult, a 29 year – old, to be exact.  

After I decided to take Galilee as the theme of this Easter homily, I discovered online that Pope Francis had actually delivered a short Easter Vigil homily on this very gospel and the meaning of Galilee.  In it, the Pope encourages all of us to look at our baptisms as our starting points in the light of the resurrection.  He also encourages us to go further (and I’m quoting now) “re-read everything (in our lives, in Holy Scripture) on the basis on the cross and its victory, fearlessly.”  Then he repeats the angel’s injunction:  “Do not be afraid.”

That’s what our vantage point on this Easter Sunday beyond the storm gives us – the opportunity to see the spectacular design of all of human history, and the design in each of our own special histories.  All of the horrible things that have happened to us – reread them in the light of the resurrection.  All of the terrible things we have done, to ourselves and to others – reread them in the light of the resurrection.  There is not one thing that promised death to us that has not been overcome today. Do not be afraid – all of it died on the cross with Jesus, and stays buried in the grave as Christ rises.

This same is true of our world.  There is much that has happened and is happening that can be seen as ministering to death, not life.  Our political landscape, the way we so easily treat each other with contempt, the loss of truth and the falling back on the simplicity and seeming clarity of violence can all make us afraid.  Do not be afraid:  remember that the power that blew open the tomb and raised Jesus resides in us – resurrection power has been given to us on this day.

One final thing.  Notice that Jesus does not say that he will accompany the disciples back to Galilee, but that he goes ahead of them to Galilee.  Jesus knew their needs – and he knows ours and our world’s – before we even know them ourselves.  He is always ahead of us before we pray a prayer or shed a tear or beg for forgiveness.  The resurrected Jesus leads, he does not follow. The safest, most powerful place for us is to be following him as closely as we can, that we might meet him in Galilee. 

My sisters and brothers, when we leave church today things may not look different, but they are.  We have been changed, and the more we are determined to follow behind Jesus, the nearer we will draw to him.  Don’t go searching for him in the noisy, glitzy special places.  Look for him at home, in our community, in the world around us, in the seclusion of the depths of our souls, in the quiet of our living, beating hearts, in the rhythm of our own breath, in the eyes of our family and our beloveds, in the beauty of God’s stunning creation.
Jesus has gone ahead of us and is already waiting for us to join him on the mountain, in Galilee.  Do not be afraid. 

 Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!