Go To Galilee

by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow

This sermon is based on Mark 16:1-8. Click here to listen to an audio version of this sermon. 

Early in the morning – very early in the morning – so early that Mark needs to tell us three times in three different ways how very early it was – early in the morning the women came to Jesus’ tomb, to finally prepare his body for a proper burial, as they had not been allowed to do on the Friday before. And when they came to the garden they found the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty, and a message from heaven that Jesus was not there in the place of death, that Jesus had been raised, that Jesus was alive again and alive forever. And the messenger said that they should gather the others and go to Galilee, and they would see Jesus there.

That message in Mark’s Gospel today is the heart of the Good News of Easter. It’s the thing we are all about here today. It’s the heart of the Good News every time we gather in Jesus’ name – but even more especially today, on this Feast of the Resurrection, on this day of splendor and glory, on this day when we pull out all the stops and sing our favorite songs and pray our greatest joy. This story from Mark’s Gospel is the best of the Good News for us all.

But having said all that, I still have to admit that there’s something a little peculiar about Mark’s story. For all the suspense, for all the drama, for all the vigor of Mark’s storytelling, there is something a little odd about this narrative. What makes the story peculiar is not so much what Mark says, as what he doesn’t say; it’s not so much what the story narrates, but what the story leaves out.

What the story leaves out is an appearance by the Risen Jesus himself. The other resurrection stories in the other gospels include a moment, after the women have found the tomb empty, when Jesus himself comes, and Jesus himself speaks, and Jesus himself reaches out his hands so they can touch him and perceive him and know that he is really real. In the other gospels, the climax of the story comes when Jesus himself reveals the New Life that God has raised up in him, New Life that he will share with those who follow him.

In the other gospels – but not in Mark. In the story we read today, Jesus does not appear. It’s as if Mark deliberately leaves the story hanging, deliberately leaves us in suspense, deliberately leaves us on the edge of our seats, with no immediate appearance of Jesus, but only with the message to go to Galilee and see Jesus there.

And I think Mark leaves the story hanging for a reason. And I think his reason has a tremendous spiritual meaning.

You see, Galilee was the place where the disciples had first come to know Jesus. It was the place where they had traveled with him, lived with him, learned from him. It was the place where they had witnessed Jesus healing, and Jesus teaching, and Jesus gathering people together into a kind of compassion and love for each other they had known nowhere else. Galilee was the place where the disciples had worked with Jesus, where they had known him as part of their everyday lives, where Jesus had taken their everyday lives and lifted them up to be part of a life and a love and a work that was greater and deeper and stronger and more alive than their own. Galilee was where Jesus had been for them not just a “religious leader,” but a friend, a teacher, a guru, a sensei – someone who transformed their lives.

So when the angel tells them that, if they want to see the Risen Jesus, they must go to Galilee – that means they must meet Jesus where they live, where they work, where their life is real. They have to look for the Resurrection in the thick of things, in everyday ordinary stuff, in the crazy mixed-up world they inhabit all the time. The message tells them that Resurrection, New Life, is not something they can take somebody else’s word for, but Resurrection, New Life, is something they must go out and meet themselves, something they must experience for themselves by meeting the Risen Jesus in the everyday world of Galilee.

And that is the message for us, too. The Good News about Resurrection remains for us just a pretty story, just somebody else’s word for it, until we go out and meet the Risen Jesus in the midst of our lives, until we go out and encounter the power of New Life in the ordinary and everyday circumstances of our real world.

And the promise of the Gospel is that when we go out into the real world to look for Resurrection, when we go forth intending to be witnesses of New Life – then we will indeed see it, then we will indeed encounter it.

We will encounter Resurrection where there is healing, where someone’s life laid low by illness and disease is raised up and made whole.

We will encounter Resurrection where someone is liberated from the bondage of addiction or abuse or domestic violence and becomes able to live their own life again.

We will encounter Resurrection where a community comes together around its challenges and finds creative new ways to build up a common life, build up the common good.

We will encounter Resurrection where wars end, and societies rebuild, and the powerful use their power, not to persecute, and not for their own profit, but to create the condition of the possibility of genuine Peace for everyone.

We will encounter Resurrection where anger and resentment and broken friendship are healed by forgiveness and reconciliation and becoming friends anew.

We will encounter Resurrection where sorrow and grief and pain are taken up into compassion and courage and hope, and new possibilities grow where before we could only see ashes.

We will experience Resurrection in all the ordinary, everyday things that make up our Galilees, the ordinary, everyday things that make up our real worlds – when we accept the Gospel message and go forth, looking to find the Risen Jesus in all the places where he promises to be for us. That is the Easter Good News we celebrate today.

And that’s what we’re doing here in this Eucharist today. Our celebration of Holy Communion on Easter Day, for all its finery and fanciness and festival joy, our celebration of Holy Communion comes down to one simple thing: it is here that we learn how to see the Risen Jesus in our midst, so that we can go out and see the Risen Jesus in the world. It is here that we get a foretaste of Resurrection, so that we can recognize Resurrection when we meet it day by day. It is here that we are nourished with bread and wine as the signs of New Life, so that we can go out and be signs of New Life to nourish all the world around. That is what our celebration here today is all about. That is what you have come here on Easter Day to be a part of.

Very early, on the first day of the week, the angel told the women to go to Galilee and they would meet the Risen Jesus there. Not quite so early, on the first day of this week, the Gospel tells us to go out into our real world, to go out into our real lives, and we will meet the Risen Jesus there. All we have to do is get up and go.