on the road to Galilee

All the gospels agree that Easter began early in the morning. I hope that wherever you were Easter morning, and however you observed the day, you had at least a few moments of the kind of peace that dawn brings.

At Bethany this year we read John’s account at the sunrise service and then Mark’s account at 10:30. The audio below and text after the jump both reflect on Mark’s story.

So that’s how the author of the gospel of Mark chose to tell the story? Kind of a let down. Seems like maybe he left something out—like, I don’t know, the resurrected Jesus? The joy and wonder and awe? The Easter bunny? Where is all that?

Early readers of this gospel had the same question, so they added endings. Anything past verse 8 was added later.

The early Jesus follower who wrote this story, the one we call Mark, really wrote it this way. “They said nothing to no one for they were afraid.”

It’s like a dark indie movie that never resolves, and you’re just left in the dark, vaguely disturbed.

It doesn’t really sound like Easter, does it?

Because Easter is kind of a frou-frou holiday—a time for pastel colors, daffodils, bunnies, all things cute.

Truth be told, I love yellow. Bunnies are nice. Daffodils after a long winter do seem to me to be a token of God’s favor. I’m not opposed to a frou-frou Easter.

But, sometimes too much sweet makes your teeth hurt. Sometimes we have hunger that candy won’t fill.

Sometimes we have the kind of hunger that lodges deep inside, the longing for meaning, for purpose, to be free, hunger for love and life. If you have that kind of hunger, then a frou-frou Easter is too sweet.

But Mark might be helpful. Because this is what Mark struggles with.

He starts his story with three heartbroken, traumatized, scared women. Mary, Mary, and Salome, go to the tomb early on the morning after the Sabbath.

In their grief they found each other and did the only thing they could think of. They went to visit his body. Although they must have known, this long after his death, the body would have a stench that no spices would cover. They must have known it was a useless trip.

Even as they walked they said to each other, I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re not even going to be able to get into the tomb. Who will roll away the stone for us?

But they couldn’t help themselves—they had followed him so long. I wonder if they looked at each other and said, well, it may be useless but it’s the least we can do.

In their grief, their hopelessness, their trauma they stumbled forward, expecting to be met by yet more death.

But then, the stone was rolled away.

That insurmountable barrier between the land of the living and the home of the dead was removed.

The stone was rolled away.

Did they clutch each other as they entered? Did they worry someone had stolen his body? Did they stumble in, numb with grief? Were they scared?

They are met by a young man who says: Do not fear. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Go, tell his disciples he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you’ll see him there, just as he told you.

Even now, even after hearing this story year after year, even after two thousand years of telling—it is still incomprehensible. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He has been raised. He is going ahead of you to Galilee.

What on earth?

The women ran terrified from the tomb. And said nothing to no one, for they were afraid.

The end.

This seems like the most honest of the Easter stories. I would have been terrified. Wouldn’t you?

This is the most honest, and the shortest. The author of Mark was a fierce editor, trimming away all the excess.

This story is no exception. He wastes no time wondering about the metaphysical realities of Jesus’ body. For Mark, that is all beside the point.

Which is a relief in some ways. Because here’s the truth: we’re never, this side of the grave, going to know what that resurrected Jesus was like in a physical, empirical, scientific way. Never.

It’s fine to wonder, to imagine, to study the other gospels for clues and hints. There’s nothing wrong with that. The other three gospels take up that question in different ways, and wrestle with the contradictions and mystery that is there.

But the truth is, this power that God unleashed that morning, early on the first day of the week, this life that leapt up from the grave, this promise God kept, is higher and deeper and broader and more than our minds can comprehend.

And so Mark cuts through it all and says here’s what matters: something happened. Something happened. These women went to a tomb expecting only death and something happened—something they didn’t understand, but that broke everything open and sent them away awestruck.

And what matters to them, and to Mark, and for us, is not exactly how it happened, but that it did, that it happened to Jesus who was crucified, and most importantly what happened next. Those are Mark’s three key points:

One, the stone was rolled away. Something happened.

Two, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised. Mark makes sure to include that little part about being crucified. This is not just some John Doe, but Jesus, the one in whom the women saw God, and the one who was humiliated, shamed, put to death, and who  no one in their right mind would ever follow, this one, the crucified one, is the one who was raised.

This is the astonishing, outrageous good news those women heard that morning.

The third key part is what happened next:

They ran away terrified and said nothing to no one because they were afraid. The end.

Except, it wasn’t. We are a living, breathing proof that that was not the end.

We’re left to wonder when on that long road back to Galilee the women found their voices. We’ll never know. We just know they were scared at first.

These three women are the most faithful followers in the whole book of Mark. They are the only ones who didn’t abandon Jesus, not even at the end, not even after the end. Mary, Mary, and Salome—carry these names close to your heart. They are the faithful ones who would not, could not leave.

And even these faithful disciples are terrified. And speechless. They fall short.

And yet. And yet, God used them. Just as God used Sarah who laughed, and Jacob who lied, and Moses who stuttered, and Elizabeth who was too old, and Naomi who lost hope, and Judas who betrayed, and Peter who denied, just as God used all of these, so God was able to take the fear, and speechlessness, doubt, and grief, and all the rest that Mary and Mary and Salome carried, and from that brokenness God brought forth life.

So if you are broken, or fearful, or heavy hearted; if you have lied, or turned your back on what’s right, or lost your tongue when you should have spoken up, then hear this: even all that cannot stop the power that God set lose in the world when the stone was rolled away.

And there’s more. The women were terrified, and fled from the tomb, but even as they fled, the promise hung before them: He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

What are you waiting for? You want to understand this? You want to see Jesus?

Go back to Galilee, where you walked with him all those months. Galilee, where normal life waits for you; Galilee where he showed you another way to be in the world—a way marked by love, by sharing and feasting, a way that defeats death every single day; plain old Galilee—Go back to Galilee.

The work’s not done. This story is not over.

The one you’ve been following is faithful and he keeps his promises. When he said the kingdom was at hand, he meant it. It is! It still is! Go back to Galilee. He will meet you there.

These words are still true. Are you searching for the risen Christ? Do you wish you could just catch a glimpse? Do you need a sign that death has been defeated and life has begun?

If you do, then go back to Galilee. It’s all there, waiting for us. That’s the promise Jesus made to those first disciples. It’s the promise he’s made to us.

If we would like to walk with him, and share life with him, then he says to us, go to Galilee, to your home, your work, your family and friends and neighbors, go to the place where God has set you, the tasks which are before you, the love to which God has called you.

This is our Galilee, the streets of Tacoma, of Lakewood and Port Orchard, in the north end, and on the hilltop, on sixth avenue and Proctor, on I-5 on the daily commute, in our homes, late at night—this is our Galilee. This is where Christ promises to meet us. This is where we join Christ in living new life, in being an outpost of the kingdom, this is where we begin to learn the ways of resurrection.

If you’re scared or doubting; God can work with that. If you don’t have it all together, God doesn’t mind. If it all seems hopeless; God will roll the stone away. So, Go! Go back to Galilee!

You don’t have to wait for Easter. You don’t have to wait for the next world. It’s this one, right here, the same dusty roads we’ve walked all along, where Christ says, I’m going to meet you.

He still says that to us. Jesus still calls us. The one who shows us how to love, how to lay down our lives, and how to live, really live, in the midst of the fear and death of this world, this one, this Jesus, on this day, he has been raised!

He is risen! This is the word that came to Mary, and Mary, and Salome, and that comes to us today: Jesus is risen! Go! Go to Galilee! Jesus is going ahead of us. He will meet us there. And we will find life—life that is real and true, life that death can never defeat, life that will fill the hunger, that will bind up the broken, life that endures, life that is abundant! Just up ahead, in Galilee. I’ll see you there. This is the word of the risen Christ! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

by Sarah W. Wiles
April 8, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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2 Responses to on the road to Galilee

  1. elderdeacon says:

    I just loved this sermon and I think it’s the first time I’ve heard a preacher use the Mark story for Easter. Go to Galilee indeed and see the risen Christ.

  2. Carolyn Joy says:

    Sarah, you have given me new eyes and ears for the power set loose when the stone rolled away. Now I must open my eyes and heart to see the Galilee in North Carolina. Thank you.

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