Sermon: Waiting for us in Galilee
Have you ever played the game, “Best vacation”? You think of a category, like summer vacation, and you try to remember and talk about the best ever that you had.
It could be Best Vacation, or Best Birthday Party – maybe Best School Dance, Best Hallowe’en Costume, Best Family Dinner, Best Christmas.
How about Best Easter? The best Easter you’ve had, and what made it that way?
For me, for Japhia and I, it was last year. We weren’t back at Fifty yet. But I was back home. I had been away for three months learning to deal with some personal issues and be able to handle them differently, and I came home the Tuesday of Holy Week. It was good to be back and reconnected – even better to be together with the hope of things being different and getting better than they had been before.
On the Thursday we and Jack – our dog, left to spend Easter weekend at a lakeside cottage, and when we arrived there was still ice on the water – not enough to walk on, it was more slush than ice in some spots, but all through the rest of that week the lake held its wintery look – still and cold and hard, closed in and constricted.
Then Sunday morning – Easter morning, we got up just a bit before sunrise, went down to the shore with some bread and wine we had brought for the occasion, and a Bible to read one of the resurrection stories, and as we got to the water’s edge, we saw that overnight the lake had cleared. The slush and ice were gone. The water was clear. It rippled with the touch of the morning breeze, seemingly glad to free. It brightly reflected the glint of a new day’s sun rising on the horizon.
It was the best Easter ever. Not that everything was suddenly all solved and resolved and instantly better. But it was a sign and a promise of what we knew inside – that there was a way forward, that old patterns could melt and flow away, that hearts could be freed and lives healed, and that right where we were in the midst of the home and the world we share, life in the days and weeks and years to come could be different than it had been.
In Mark’s story of the resurrection of Jesus from defeat and death, the message the women are given by the young man in white – presumably an angel, is to not be alarmed, that Jesus is not there but has been raised, and that they are to “go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.”
What did Galilee mean for the disciples?
Galilee was where they first met Jesus. It was a fringe area, a bit of a hinterland. But it was their home. It was the place of their daily, ordinary life and it was in the midst of that daily, ordinary life that they first met and began to follow Jesus – that they first were touched by and began to believe in the good news of God’s kingdom in their midst – in the casting out of evil spirits, the healing of the sick, the forgiveness of the sinful, the creation of truly human community and communities of new life right where they were.
It was a wonderful thing – a wonderful memory of how things had been before they came with Jesus to Jerusalem to have the dream undone. And on the morning after the death and burial of Jesus, I have no doubt that’s how it felt as they awoke – that the time they had known with Jesus in Galilee really was just a dream now undone and vanished and over.
Until … the women found the tomb empty, no dead body there, a message that Jesus was raised and alive and at work in the world again, and that he was going ahead of them back to Galilee.
Easter is a day with some measure of heavenly rapture. It’s a day that feeds our longing for assurance of release from this world and of resurrection to life after death at the end. But it is also even more – when we think of Jesus going ahead of the disciples back to Galilee – a day that calls and sends us back to the world that we live in every day, back to this life as we know it, and back to the people and life of all the world as it is with an assurance that the dreams we have of things being able to be new and different and better are not just empty dreams. Because it’s there, in the midst of daily, ordinary life in the world as we know it, that Jesus is waiting to meet us.
When I first saw the video of The Deer’s Cry that we saw together after the Scripture reading (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGHWiAGpIP0), I was especially struck by the images at the end of poor, weak and lonely people, of people deeply hurt and imprisoned. And it made me wonder, who Jesus is raised for? Is it just for the disciples – for the believers who followed him to Jerusalem, who at least did their best to declare him their Lord and Master? Or does Jesus go back to Galilee – back to the place of daily, ordinary life, for other people too?
This week I saw a note from Wesley Urban Ministries about the death of a man named Henry – a frequent visitor to the Wesley Day Centre. Henry was 60 years old when he passed away in December and for most of his life he struggled with mental illness and addictions.
To the people around him he revealed “a sensitive, gentle spirit, a humble heart, and genuine concern for others.” But he was distant from his mother, brother, sister and their families. He didn’t have a personal phone. He would often phone from the Wesley Day Centre, though, to arrange family visits that they all cherished when they happened.
After his death the family contacted Wesley to thank them for helping Henry keep in touch with them in this way. And I wonder, was each call and each visit an occasion of resurrection for all of them – a time of new and renewed life, of deepened relationship and love, maybe just when they were starting to think it might be all over?
On Wednesday The Hamilton Spectator ran a story about a Muslim imam known for his ministry as a chaplain in Ontario’s prisons. In the article he tells a story of one inmate he came to know – a “lifer” who had come to accept Islam while in prison. The crime he had committed many years before was “quite horrific” and he was remorseful. He was a model prisoner and had gone from a maximum security facility to one with minimal supervision. He was granted a temporary absence to visit family, and asked the chaplain to go with him.
On the two-hour drive from Kingston into the GTA the two talked at a depth they had not before. When it was time for afternoon prayers the chaplain pulled into a mosque, pre-approved for them to visit. The inmate hesitated to go inside because he had never been in a mosque, but the chaplain showed him inside and showed him what to do.
And then, when they went upstairs to pray, in the words of the chaplain, “a very beautiful thing happened. Side by side we offered prayers, and he began to weep. We completed our prayers and I didn’t say anything. We walked back to the car and I asked him, ‘What were the tears about, brother?’ He said they were tears of joy and sorrow. He was thankful for where he was in life and for the journey that brought him there. But he was also reminded of what he had done and the pain of remembering where he was in life at the time of his crime. I said to him, ‘That’s very good … I hope those tears come again.'"
And I wonder – is that what resurrection is, the breaking open of hardened and scarred hearts, and the freedom not known before to move into a new, better, and more hopeful way of living?
Jesus – the One who helps us believe in the casting out of evil spirits, the healing of the sick, the forgiveness of the sinful, and the creation of truly human community and communities of new life right we are – is not dead, is raised to be among us again and again, and he is going ahead of us to Galilee.
Whatever Galilee is for you, I wish you the best Easter yet. And I wish you the opportunity to help others also know the promise and the hope of resurrection in their lives.