“Coming Home to Galilee”
Text: Matthew 28:10
Prayer: God of resurrection, God of homecoming, rise and return us to ourselves and one another today. Alleluia, alleluia, amen.
“He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” -Matthew 28:7
Of all the places he might go, after being dead for three days and suddenly waking up again: Jesus chooses the boondocks of Galilee. Of all the people he might spook first: Jesus chooses the women.
We use such triumphant words and phrases for the Resurrection. “He conquered death.” “He vanquished death.” “Up from the grave he arose, with a glorious triumph o’er his foes!” Yet when we line these up with Matthew’s telling of the story, they sound a bit overdone. More like a Hollywood movie. Less like the life, death, and rising of someone we actually know and love. And since we actually do know and love Jesus, I think we can talk about the resurrection the way Matthew does: more sweetly, more strangely, more quietly than is generally allowed. Resurrection is powerful, always. But it is not movie theater powerful. It is powerful in that way that’s so close to home, it almost makes us feel shy. Because it reminds of the power that is all around us in our daily lives. It brings us face to face with our own power to rise again.
Matthew tells us the first people Jesus appeared to, post-resurrection, were Mary and Mary. The first place he set out for was Galilee. What both of these mean is that our risen Savior maintains the same preferential option for the poor and the oppressed that he expressed during his earthly ministry. We know that women in Jesus’ time faced daily hardship in a society that didn’t consider them to be full human beings. Especially women who, like Mary Magdalene, had a reputation. How she earned that reputation is besides the point: we know how stories stick to a person. We know too well how societies can brand a person for life, forever marking you as dangerous or unclean for an act committed simply to feed yourself, your children, when you’re running low on options. Especially when you are poor, stories stick. Criminal records stick. And yet– Jesus sticks closer. Even death couldn’t sever the bonds between him and these women. To the world that crucified Jesus, women like Mary Magdalene were and are last. But to our resurrected God, they were and are first.
Like Mary Magdalene, Galilee also had a reputation. On one hand it seems like a natural choice– if I were dead for three days and got to come back for a quick visit, I’d go to my loved ones first. My people, my home. But we can’t package this up as a tidy “Everybody just wants some place to call home” message. Remember what Galilee was like. Galilee was poor, rural, full of underpaid/overworked/rebellious Judean peasants and the Roman police who forcibly sought to keep them in line. It was the kind of place where most respectable Episcopalians, if they had to visit, would probably clutch their purses or wallets closely and not venture out much after sundown. And it is the very first place Jesus wants to go. He can’t even wait for the Marys, he has to go on ahead of them, he is so eager to return. He was only gone a little while, but he missed it so much! The Galileans, like the women, are his chosen people.
It is extremely important for us to know that Jesus comes to the Marys and to Galilee first because this is not a one-time event. It is an on-going act. God will always show up to the Marys and the Galilees first. We can all choose to participate in the life of the resurrection. But if we want to know what it looks like, what signs and wonders we should be anticipating, we have to turn toward the Magdalenes and Galileans of our own era and ask them: “What does resurrection look like to you?” If we don’t learn what resurrection means for the poor, the criminalized, and the abused, we can’t know what it means for the whole world. We have to go home to Galilee with the risen Jesus before we can come home to ourselves.
Where is Galilee for you today? Who are your Marys?
I had a kind of Galilee homecoming trip last year. It was after I lost my grandfather to suicide. He had a rapid onset of dementia. He was also a veteran; he began to have terrifying paranoia and hallucinations. We couldn’t get any doctors to see him quickly enough. When my partner and I flew across the country for his funeral, my grandmother was still in fresh shock after finding him. Our family kept vigil with her, at her house, in shifts. Our first night there, we slept in my grandparents’ bed– my grandma couldn’t sleep there, and in the midst of all the trauma, the sheets had not been changed yet from the last night they slept there together. They still smelled like my grandfather. It was like sleeping in an empty tomb.
And then. A few days later.
After we buried him, after we helped my grandma through the agony of sorting his things, after we had all journeyed back to the place where he helped to raise us: my grandpa began to visit each of us in our dreams. They were silly, sweet, mundane dreams. He was always just doing things he’d done in life: fixing somebody’s car, helping somebody move furniture, giving somebody a ride to work. He had fun popping up in those dreams, too: in mine, he showed up with no grey hairs, no more beer belly, looking 15 years younger than he had when he left us. In moving through our grief together, and especially in surrounding my grandmother with the care and steadfastness she needed in order to hang on in this world– my grandfather became real among us more than ever before. He still is. He is so present to me now, reminding me of who I am and where I come from, strengthening me as I muddle through each day. I had to go home to Galilee first, though, to meet him. My family had to travel to that place of struggle, of fear, of facing painful truths about the injustice of this world. We had to keep watch over one another through the agony. And what God requires of us in our own families is no less than what God requires of us as a society. This kind of labor, this way of bearing one another’s burdens, is what it takes if we want to catch a glimpse of the resurrection. This is how we build the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Come home to Galilee and come home to yourself this Easter. Come home to the parts of your own life and your own history where there is struggle or pain. Be with those things for a minute. You don’t have to poke or prod them. Just notice them, and listen. See what else is there just as Jesus saw what else was in Galilee: Hope. Endurance. Smarts. Sit with all these things like you were sitting with old friends. That’s very much what Jesus’ resurrection looked like. There is nothing weak or un-special about that, even if it strikes us as mundane. It’s supposed to strike us as mundane. A little odd but overwhelmingly relatable. We are supposed to imitate it. God doesn’t need flashy, surround-sound special effects. God needs followers. You can be one of them, if you want. You can do it. Come home to Galilee.
Amen. Alleluia, alleluia.