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Go to Galilee

April 21, 2014

“Go to Galilee” Matthew 28:1-10 © 4.20.14 Easter A by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

Come and go with me to Galilee. Don’t worry that we have no reservations, lodging, passports or baggage. We’ll discover that it’s really not so very far away.

New Testament Galilee was a region in what is now northern Israel. But it wasn’t just any place. For the disciples, as it had been for Jesus, it was home. Galilee was where they worked, lived with their families, laughed and talked and cried and grieved. It was the old familiar place. So “go to Galilee” meant “go back home and find your Lord there.” The common, ordinary, routine events and duties, joys and sorrows of everyday life would be charged with the energy of revelation.

And so it is for us. Our Galilee is our everyday world. Work, play, school, friendships, marriage, whatever it is we do day in and day out can lead us to encounter the risen Christ and hear his reassuring and challenging word.  We meet our Lord in and through the people and places that refresh, challenge, excite, bore and even bother us. He can use anything on a spectrum from “been there, done that” to “this is new and unusual” to remind us of his love and grace that bring us new life. Even the meager, the miserable, the marginal, and the misshapen can be and are the signs and vessels, the harbingers and heralds of the presence and action of God. Sometimes it is especially small things that point us to the divine. There is nothing so quotidian and tiny that it cannot be shot through with the goodness and presence of the Spirit. We can meet the risen Christ in our kitchen or the back yard, driving along the same stretch of highway we’re traveled a hundred times, doing our daily work, watching TV, whatever. It’s in such things that God communicates to us his rich and abundant grace. These days God has made are sacraments, gifts by and through and in and around which God makes known and imparts his grace. So we may rejoice and be glad in them.

On a Good Friday almost 30 years ago, I was feeling unusually sad and fatigued. Susan and I had been out shopping, and when we got home, we saw two dogs in our front yard. One was a neighbor, a schnauzer named Psychedelic that lived with college students in the apartment house next door. The other was a beagle we’d never seen before. Psychedelic got bored pretty quickly and went home, but the nameless beagle hung around. He was suspicious of us at first, but the more we petted and spoke gently to him, the more he warmed to us, until the twenty-pound dog finally ended up in my lap on the manse porch. He’d known us for ten minutes, but had decided he could trust us enough to go to sleep. As I sat there petting that pup, my sadness and exhaustion began to fade. I wonder if the risen Christ came to me that day in a stray dog. As Frederick Buechner says, “There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak.” “Go to Galilee, and there you will see him.”

But if Galilee was home for the disciples, so also was it a place of the despised, displaced, and disruptive. The religion of the region was not particularly orthodox or concerned with the finer points of rules and rituals. We would say today that it was pluralistic. Most of the population was Gentile. The Jews who lived there were not known for their attendance at the religious festivals in Jerusalem. Too far away. Too costly. Galilee was isolated from the rabbinic influence of the holy city. Nothing much of any religious significance was ever supposed to happen in the region. The common assumption was that no prophet would ever arise from there (John 7:52).

Galilee was also a place of political conflict. Some people sided with the revolutionaries like the Zealots, whom they would consider freedom fighters but the Romans would call terrorists. Others favored the Romans and presumably the Herod family, which ruled the region.

It was to such a place that the disciples were to go to encounter the risen Christ. He would be there among the distrusted, the demeaned, and the troublesome. Not in the places of power and wealth and influence would he be found in his resurrection power, but in an unexpected place, where nothing much was supposed to happen, where God was not supposed to work.

So if we are to meet our risen Lord, we too are called to go to places where people are cast aside, looked down on, lack privilege and voice, whose religion is suspect or lacking. Galilee is wherever there is need and crisis and hunger and hurt. It’s where people shout at each other in disagreement and refuse to understand. It’s the postmodern world, filled with many religions and none, the skeptic and the true believer, Christians who jump up and down filled with the Holy Ghost and those who pray quietly, meditating on a complex passage of scripture. Galilee is “where cross the crowded ways of life, where sound the cries of race and clan.” It’s the “haunts of wretchedness and need,… shadowed thresholds fraught with fears,… paths where hide the lures of greed.” But yet “above the noise of selfish strife” we can and do hear the voice of “the Son of Man” (Frank M. North, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”).

Jesus goes before us. We do not take him to such a world. He is already there in Galilee. He is not the possession of the Church. Jesus goes before us, doing his work, readying the way, calling us to meet him.

So Galilee was a name and a home on an ancient map and is a location just around the corner and right next to you and me. But it’s more than a place. It’s a state of the heart. Galilee was where so many of Jesus’ first disciples met him and answered his call to follow him. It’s where most of our Lord’s ministry took place, according to Matthew: “He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing every disease and infirmity among the people” (4:23). For the disciples, the region was filled with the sounds, smells, feelings, and memories of their experiences with their Master.

To go to Galilee to meet the risen Christ was thus to go back to the beginning, to return to the place of their call to discipleship, when and where faith was fervent and excitement ran high. For us, Galilee is that place in our heart of hearts where we go to be centered in Christ, to rediscover or know for the first time devotion to Jesus, with hearts on fire. In Galilee, we know the wonder and enthusiasm of faith when it was new.

Memories can be painful, but they can also be healing. Remembrance brings us wholeness. A couple goes to Galilee when they remember what drew them to each other and what can renew their relationship now. A family travels there when it recalls precious memories and looks at photos on the anniversary of a death, and is filled with joy in the midst of grief or trouble. In our Galilee, we reconnect with people and events that have defined us, sustained us, moved us farther along our pilgrimage. We go to Galilee whenever we recall or reaffirm baptismal vows and find afresh the cleansing and enlightenment baptism imparts. We know once again that in life and in death we belong to God. We travel to Galilee when we come to the Lord’s Table to remember and reaffirm our covenant with him and each other. We are strengthened and empowered for ministry in the world God loves.

“Go to Galilee; there you will see him.” And knowing we will encounter the risen Christ, you and I may rejoice and not be afraid.

“I know you seek Jesus who was crucified,” said the angel. “He is not here; for he has been raised…. [H]e is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

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