“Let’s Go to Galilee!”
Easter Day (Year B)
by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Easter is not the end of the story, but the beginning of a new era.
Yes, on Good Friday, Jesus was tortured and killed. He gave himself up to the Roman and Jewish authorities and died a horrific death on the cross. And most of his followers gave up on him right then and there.
Even the most faithful ones -- like Mary, Mary, and Salome -- were resigned to his death. They came to his grave with no expectation of anything unusual. They did not remember his promises that he would rise again on the third day. They were simply doing their duty to pay respects to a loved one. Their biggest concern that morning was how they were going to roll away the heavy stone from in front of the tomb.
But they arrived at a scene that was far from ordinary. They discovered the stone already rolled away and an angel waiting for them to tell them news. At first they were afraid. They saw that Jesus’ body was missing and they were full of fear! But the angel tells them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (16:6).
He is not here. Jesus has been raised from the dead. He is alive! Alleluia!
So the women are shocked and they run away scared, but the story isn’t over yet. Jesus is not raised simply to show off his power over death (though that’s part of it). Jesus is raised with a purpose. He does not stay put at the door of the tomb, waiting for the disciples to find him. He goes on to his next task. Just as God will not rest, Jesus does not rest in his love for the whole world.
So by the time the women arrive, Jesus is gone. And where did he go? “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (16:7). Jesus’ mission doesn’t end on the Cross, and it doesn’t end in the Empty Tomb. He goes ahead of us to Galilee.
Why is Galilee important? Why did Jesus go there of all places? First off, Galilee is where Jesus grew up. Nazareth is a town in the region of Galilee. It’s where most of the Twelve Apostles are from. It’s where Jesus did most of his earthly ministry. Galilee is where God decided that the Messiah should cut his teeth. It’s the place where the Son of God was revealed to the world.
Second, Galilee was different from Jerusalem. Galilee wasn’t an ancient religious city full of priests and pious pilgrims. Galilee was a crossroads in the Roman Empire. It was diverse and rural; cosmopolitan but with a small town vibe. There were Jews and Greeks and Romans and Syrians and Egyptians and Ethiopians and Arabs and Turks; people from every part of the known world traveled through and settled in the farmlands around the Sea of Galilee.
Galilee was not a major trading post and boasted of no huge cities. But it was somewhere you had to pass through on foot between the big cities. It had some convenient ports along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea that made it useful for trade and travel. That just means that Galilee was more diverse than Jerusalem and Judea. Galilee was ethnically, culturally, and religiously mixed; it had been for centuries. Galilee was an ideal mission field.
Again, God chose to become a human being in Galilee. He grew up around Jews and Gentiles, and when he was a grown man ministering to the people, he wasn’t afraid of difference.
Jesus healed Samaritan lepers; raised the daughter of a Roman centurion; he healed a Syro-Phoenician girl; he fed 4000 people with seven loaves and a few fish in the Greek city of Decapolis (Mark 8:1-10; that’s after he fed 5000 Jews earlier in the Gospels). Throughout his earthly life, he shared God’s love with ALL people, not just the chosen ones of Israel.
Now on Easter morning, in the Resurrected Body of Jesus, God’s Love and Power were fully realized on earth. God exploded into the world with New Life. The Risen Jesus changed everything about human nature and our relationship to the God who created the heavens and the earth. This is the most important event in world history. And for the forty days that Jesus walked around on earth after the Resurrection (before Ascending into heaven), he stayed in Galilee.
God chose Galilee as the place for Jesus’ powerful earthly ministry and his even more powerful Resurrected ministry. In Galilee, Jesus trained the apostles to become the first bishops and leaders of the Church. In Galilee, Jesus sent the disciples to begin spreading the Good News of God’s love, liberation, and life. And to Galilee, God calls us to go and do the same.
We follow Jesus to Galilee any time we testify to God’s goodness in our own lives. We follow Jesus to Galilee when we offer food, shelter, and other necessities to the less fortunate among us. We follow Jesus to Galilee whenever we work to reconcile old wounds, heal broken relationships, and make peace in this cruel world.
And lest we get puffed up with pride at how important our work is, we must remember that we’re going to Galilee after Jesus. “Jesus is going ahead of [us].” The Church has the potential to be a beacon of God’s light, love, and freedom. But we don’t own God. God always goes before us. Even when we’re dealing with people of different religions and different culture and different backgrounds, we believe that God has been working in their lives from before they were born. Jesus is going ahead of us.
We don’t go expecting to introduce God to the world. God’s already there. We go hoping to meet Jesus more closely in the people we encounter. We go in humility, just as Jesus did in his journey to the Cross. And we go praying that the glory of his Resurrection will shine through us, broken vessels that we are, so that God is glorified and the world healed.
Here at St. Matthew’s, we do simple things. We pray together. We eat together. We serve those who seem to be in need. I won’t lie and say we’re perfect, but we’re doing our best to follow Jesus together to Galilee and beyond. We’ve been rooted in our Galilee, this neighborhood of Savannah, for over 70 years (and we hope to be here for a long time to come).
If you want to be a part of a community that will love you, challenge you with the truth, and sometimes get on your last nerve, then you’ve found the right place. We don’t have to be perfect because we follow a Risen Lord who is. What we do is live a common life around Jesus’ Table, where we hope our lives will be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So please join us as we continue to go to Galilee here in Savannah, following Jesus on the way to New Life for ourselves and for all our neighbors. Amen.