Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
March 23, 2008—Midnight Easter Vigil
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
It is early morning on the first day of the week. Last week has been a really difficult one, more difficult than we could ever have imagined. It was only a week ago that we came into town with our master. It was euphoric. Remember how all those people greeted us on the road into the city? Remember how they shouted out to Jesus things like “Hosanna to the Son of David!” We were so excited. All that work. All that time spent away from our families. All the traveling and the preaching. It was finally paying off. This was going to be it. And it was going to happen on the Passover—that great holiday of freedom and independence from oppression. The Israelite Fourth of July. It was going to be wondrous.
And then remember how Jesus went into the Temple and knocked over the tables of the moneychangers? Wow! That was kind of a rush. I mean, I won’t lie, a number of us were a little nervous. What if the crowd got out of control? But it didn’t and Jesus’ point was made. Just like the prophets of old—it was exhilarating!
Oh, and then that speech were he lays into the religious leaders for hypocrisy. Man, did they have that one coming! I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of religious leaders who tell me how to live but are empty on the inside themselves.
But then remember how some of us were a little upset when Jesus started talking about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the world? The ‘desolating sacrilege’ and the talk of false messiahs? It was a little depressing and didn’t seem on point with the message from the previous first day of the week when we came into Jerusalem.
And then of course, we were all looking forward to the Passover. That meal was so wonderful and Jesus told us that whenever we ate the bread and drank the wine we’d be partaking of him and we’d be doing it in remembrance of him. And then we went out to the Mount of Olives for the night.
And then things went horribly wrong. Remember how Jesus took Peter and James and John with him while the rest of us went to sleep. All I remember is suddenly there being a commotion and there was a crowd of people with swords and clubs and there was Judas with them. It hadn’t occurred to me that Judas wasn’t with us—did you all notice it? Oh, and how they came for Jesus and one of us took a sword and cut off the high priest’s slave’s ear? I remember thinking: “Okay! Here we go!” But then Jesus says, “Put away your sword” and goes willingly with them. I was scared. The rest of you were, too, I remember because we took off. I ran all the way to Bethany. I didn’t see which way you guys went.
I thought that was the low point. But then they try him before the Sanhedrin. And then Peter—good old Simon Peter—actually denies knowing Jesus. I suppose we didn’t do much better, eh? I mean, we weren’t even around to be asked.
And then they hand him over to the Romans and they crucify him. They must have done a really good job because he was dead before sundown. At least Joseph of Arimathea was nice enough to provide a tomb for Jesus. It was more than we did, that’s for sure.
And then sundown and the Sabbath. A more joyless Sabbath I’ve never known. I remember how the rest of us finally got together and just sat together. Remember how Peter couldn’t even look at the rest of us. I don’t know what he felt so bad about. We all hadn’t acquitted ourselves very well. A miserable Sabbath. A miserable Passover. A miserable week.
But then here we are early in the morning on the first day of the week, and Mary from Magdala and the other Mary come and find us. “We have seen the Lord! He has been raised from the dead! Go to Galilee and you will see him there!”
I’m sorry: what?
Jesus has been raised from the dead? Well, that’s what most of you were saying.
He wants us to go to Galilee? That’s what I was thinking. I mean, let me get this straight: we go through the most miserable week of our lives. We expect Jesus to usher in the Kingdom of God and change the world. We come to Jerusalem in glory. We’re at the Temple, outside the Holy of Holies. Jesus is killed and raised from the dead and we’re supposed to go back to the sticks to see him?
I mean, if it turns out that we were right all along in backing him as the messiah, why can’t he do that for us here in Jerusalem? Why do we have to go back to Galilee?
You all remember Galilee, don’t you? It’s nowheresville. There’s nothing going on up there. Oh sure, there’s Sepphoris, you’ll say. Sepphoris is cool. But we all know that Sepphoris is the exception. There’s also Magdala, and Gennesaret, and Capernaum, and Nazareth. Do you remember how the Jerusalemites made fun of us for being from Galilee? How Peter got caught because he had a Galilean accent? There’s nothing wonderful about the Galilee. Nothing but workers, peasants, fishermen, shepherds, poor people. Why on earth would a Resurrected Messiah want to go there? Why would we have to go there to see him?
Oh, I know what Peter says: the risen Messiah is among the poor the ordinary people. Sure, Simon, now you’re the theologian. It just seems so unlikely to me that if Jesus is raised that he wouldn’t want to go around Jerusalem in glory. The Romans’d be quaking in their sandals.
Can it really be that Jesus would want to go back to Galilee? I have my doubts. Well, me and Thomas, anyway.
I mean, think about it: if Jesus is raised from the dead, that means the whole world is changed. It means that all the injustice we saw last week—that we’ve seen our whole lives—has been upended. It didn’t get the final word, God’s justice did. Jesus being raised means that all the things we have hoped for, the promises made to our ancestors, our hopes for goodness in the world, have been vindicated. It means that not even death has the final word—that God and life have the final word. If Jesus has been raised from the dead then we too will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. An event that momentous should be followed up by something momentous, shouldn’t it? Why has he gone before us to Galilee?
But is Peter right? Could it be that God’s lifegiving power would be seen not among the powerful, but among the humble? Jesus was just a carpenter’s kid after all. Could it be that the Kingdom is finally coming? But that rather than sitting around on thrones in that kingdom we disciples are going to have to go and work with the ordinary people? Does it really mean that the Risen Messiah is known not in splendor but in humble service? Man, I was looking forward to that throne.
And I suppose it would mean that the power of resurrection takes place in the ordinary course of life, too. In the ordinary places like Capernaum. I know Matthew was always thinking about going to rabbinical school, maybe he doesn’t have to now. Maybe he doesn’t need to be a priest or a prophet or a rabbi to proclaim the message of God’s salvation. Maybe, those fishermen up there in Galilee are just as capable of sharing the good news. Maybe our faith in Jesus as the Messiah isn’t something that takes place apart from the world but init.
I suppose it’s possible that Jesus expects us to live out our faith in every aspect of our ordinary lives. I suppose he expects us to live it out not just when were in the synagogues or the Temple praying, but when we’re shopping at the marketplace in Sepphoris. Not just when we’re sitting on a hillside listening to him preach, but when we’re casting nets into the sea for fish. Not just when we’re studying the sacred scriptures but also when we’re celebrating with friends in community. Not just when we’re contemplating the infinite mind of God but also when we’re building a house or tending a garden. If Jesus really has gone ahead of us to Galilee, then I guess that it means that that’s where our faith is too. The remarkable, the transcendent, the world-changing, is to be lived out in the unremarkable, the immanent, the mundane. Heh. That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it? Always turning things on their heads. “First shall be last and last shall be first” kind of stuff.
Well, I guess if we’re going to take the Marys at their word, then Jesus is raised and has gone before us to Galilee. I guess if we’re planning on seeing the Risen Messiah ourselves, we’d better get a move on to Galilee.