Where's Your Galilee?
April is the cruellest month.
So writes the poet T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, as he surveys the bleak landscape of the First World War. The warmth of spring wakes us from our winter slumber with the stirrings of new life - only to be crushed once again by the death-dealing forces of our world.
Perhaps this year we can relate. It has been a warm spring, at least here in Ottawa, and that’s lifted spirits. The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines filled us with the hope of new life beyond the pandemic – and yet, this weekend, the reality of the third wave and variants of concern has hit us hard, causing a spike in new cases, threatening again to overwhelm our hospitals, and sending us back into lockdown. Our hopes? Perhaps they haven’t been crushed, but they’ve certainly been deferred, and we’re getting tired of this. April is the cruellest month.
So it is, only much more so, for Mary Magdalene, and Mary, and Salome as they come to the tomb on that first Easter morning. April has been cruel for them too. They had been in Galilee with Jesus, swept up in the Jesus’ movement. They had been there with him as he healed the sick and liberated the oppressed. They had seen him reaching out to the marginalized, breaking down barriers, pronouncing forgiveness and proclaiming God’s love. They had experienced Jesus raising people up, in fact they too had been raised up, they too had experienced new life. Galilee had been their spring, in Galilee they had dared to hope.
Then, the death-dealing powers had taken over. The powers that be had taken offence at this young rabbi from Nazareth who had dared to challenge them on behalf of the poor and marginalized. They crushed him, they crushed his body, hanging him on a cross to die.
And Mary, Mary and Salome had been crushed too. Their hopes shattered. The new life they had experience with Jesus in Galilee, had it all been an illusion? A fleeting spring that death had crushed in the end?
They were crushed. But not entirely. The women will still do what is right. Death may have erased their hopes and dreams but it did not extinguish their love for Jesus. And so they will go to the tomb, very early on that first day, to anoint his body. A little thing, perhaps, done with great love. It is an act of defiance. Isn’t love always an act of defiance?
And so they go to the tomb, hoping to anoint the body, expecting to play out a final, anti-climactic scene in this story of death. But that’s not how it plays out.
Instead they see a young man, dressed in a white robe, a messenger from God, and he does indeed have a message for them.
“You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”
A surprising message. How would you respond?
“So Mary, and Mary and Salome went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It’s an abrupt, shocking end to the gospel of Mark. It’s strange to our ears. Most years we read from one of the other gospels on Easter, we get to hear about Jesus appearing to the disciples, and that provides the story with some sort of closure.
But the last thing Mark wants to do is give us a sense of closure. This is no ending, there’s no way this story could end at the tomb with fear and silence. If it had we wouldn’t be gathered here today, we would have never, ever heard about it.
The resurrection is not the end. It’s just the beginning, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the beginning of a story that is still being written.
One of the things I love about Mark’s gospel is its sense of urgency. This mission that Jesus is on, it matters, and it’s urgent. Healing, liberation, forgiveness, raising people up, proclaiming God’s love – it’s needed now. The world is in desperate need of healing. There’s no time to waste.
That’s as true today as it was 2000 years ago. Think about what we’ve seen over the past year. Anti-Asian racism. Myanmar. Civil war in Yemen. The murder of George Floyd and countless others. The failure to provide drinking water on indigenous reserves. The mental health crisis. The pandemic, and the failures it laid bare for us in the way we care for elders and our social inequalities. The world, our world, is in desperate need of healing.
And so is it any surprise that when Mark tells the Easter story, Jesus has no time to wait around the tomb making appearances? Even before the women arrive, he’s already gone, he’s gone ahead of them to Galilee. Back to Galilee. Back to where his healing mission began. Back to the beginning.
For the women, the prospect of going back to Galilee must be terrifying, after all, it didn’t work out so well the first time. Though they grieved, they also knew how to deal with Jesus in the tomb. They had a ritual for that, a ritual that would bring some closure. But Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, is not meant to bring us closure. It’s meant to open everything up again. The frightening prospect of Easter is that God is calling these same women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus.
But this time they’re not going back empty-handed. This time they’re going back with the greatest gift of all: a sure and certain hope, that is grounded in the love and power of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. And that changes everything. It’s back to the beginning, but it’s a new beginning. It’s a return to the world that is still in desperate need of healing, a world in which there are still death-dealing forces lurking, but this time armed with the conviction that love will overcome hate, that life can emerge even out of death, and that hope is stronger than all our fears.
Go to Galilee, where you will see the risen Christ.
Where is Galilee for you?
Where is it that you have witnessed, and you have joined, in God’s mission to bring healing to those who are hurting and liberation to those who are oppressed? Where do you experience healing and liberation for yourself?
Where is it that you can be part of Jesus’ movement to break down barriers and reach out to those who are marginalized? Where do you yourself experience belonging?
Where do you give and receive forgiveness? To whom do you proclaim God’s love?
Where do you go to raise people up? Where are you raised up?
Whatever place you’re thinking of right now, that’s your Galilee.
Galilee for you might be your home and family. It might be your place of work. It might be your neighbourhood or your school. It might be some place far from home. Where is God calling you to proclaim the good news, where is God calling you to be a part of his mission to bring healing to a world which is in desperate need?
Go there. There you will see the risen Christ. There you will experience new life. There you will be raised up.
Because Easter is not the end, it is just the beginning. Resurrection is not just a unique historical event, the raising of Jesus from the dead, though it is certainly that. Resurrection is not just the promise that we too will be raised when we die, though that too I believe.
But resurrection is also a way of life, a way of being, a way of acting in the world. We are here to raise each other up. To practice resurrection, just like Jesus did, just like Jesus showed us throughout his ministry in Galilee. We are going back to Galilee, but this time with a new hope and a renewed confidence that will sustain us even when times get tough. We are an Easter people. We believe in resurrection.
Twenty years after he wrote The Waste Land, in the midst of another tragic war, T.S. Eliot penned the last of his poems, Little Gidding. Once more Eliot surveys the same bleak landscape, the same world that is in such desperate need of healing, but this time he sees it with the sure and certain hope of resurrection. He writes:
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
And all shall be well and all shall be well, And all manner of thing shall be well.”
Go to Galilee. He is going ahead of you. Go to Galilee, where you will raise up and be raised. Go to Galilee. There you will see the risen Christ.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Homily: Yr B Easter Sunday April 4 2021, St. Albans
Reading: Mark 16.1-8
Image by dimitrisvetsikas