Sermon by Rev. Gary W. Charles, April 2nd, 2021
John Grisham has just read the shortest and strangest of all the Easter stories. Mark’s Easter story closes not with a sounding crescendo, but with an awkward thud, not with women running into the market square shouting, “He is Risen!” “He is Risen, indeed!” but running for cover like three mute mice.
On a day devoted to sheer celebration, who invited Mark to these festivities anyway? If we were to follow Mark’s Easter script, we would all dress in black today. The music would be somber, bordering on the funereal, and if there were any flowers, one lily would sit by the front door, suggesting maybe, just maybe, a distant hint of hope.
We have quarantined for a solid year to listen to this Easter story?! Why didn’t we invite John to Easter 2021 to tell the story of the risen Jesus surprising Mary in the garden and then fixing breakfast for the boys on the beach? Why didn’t we invite Luke to tell of two despondent men on the road to Emmaus who were joined by a stranger who just happened to be the risen Jesus? Why didn’t we invite Matthew to tell about the risen Jesus standing on the mountain and barking out marching orders for the church? Why invite Mark to Easter this year of all years?!
Maybe Mark is here on this Easter morning, because Mark knows us best. Mark knows that you and I have more in common with frightened women fleeing the tomb overwhelmed and mute than with Easter trumpets and timpanis and cantatas. Mark knows that you and I are well acquainted with grief and doubt, and that our faith is fragile, even on our best days.
Maybe Mark is here this Easter also because he is a subtle master of surprise. In his Easter story, women come looking for death, but even death is not where it is supposed to be. They come to the tomb and come up empty – literally. They don’t discover a dead body, but a living messenger who says, “Go and say to his disciples and to Peter: ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him, as he told you’.”
I imagine that if these women had not been so silenced by their own grief, they would have asked: “Excuse me, but could you repeat that? Did you say Galilee? How could we return to Galilee? How could going back home possibly help matters now?”
Since the women do not ask those questions at the close of Mark’s Gospel, I will. Why were the women told that the risen Jesus will meet his disciples in Galilee? In one way, it is not so surprising because Galilee starts and finishes Mark's Gospel. Just listen:
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan” (Mark 1:9).
"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14).
"As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea" (Mark 1:16).
"And he (Jesus) went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (Mark 1:39).
"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” (Mark 16:7).
For Mark, Galilee is home, a familiar place, for Jesus and his followers, but it is also the place where Jesus starts getting himself in trouble by touching lepers, forgiving sins, eating with tax collectors, breaking Sabbath laws, and by opening doors of God’s grace to Gentiles. For Mark, though, Galilee is as much a promise as it is a place. Galilee is where the Risen Jesus awaits the Judas in us, that part of us capable of betraying even our closest friend. He awaits the James and John in us, that part of us so obsessed with looking in the mirror that we fail to see human need staring us in the face. He awaits the Simon Peter in us, that part of us which boasts of far more faith than we can ever deliver. Galilee is where Jesus awaits women at the empty tomb who are told that they will find him there.
At the turn of the 20th century, Albert Schweitzer wrote:
"He (Jesus) comes to us as One unknown, without a name as of old, by the
lakeside, He came to those who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: `Follow thou me!' and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in
their own experience Who he is.”
For Schweitzer, Galilee is found “in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings,” of this life; it is where the Risen Jesus awaits all those who have lost their bearings, those who compromise their integrity for a few bucks, those who sit in church pews or parking lots or attend church via You Tube, and yet still are mostly confused about who Jesus is and have almost no clue how to follow him, those who find their way to church occasionally, pretty sure that there is nothing to hear that they haven’t already heard and tossed aside.
Mark’s Easter story invites us to go to and take residence in Galilee – the most unlikely of places, the place where everyone knows who our parents were, what we were like as teens, a place where there is no escaping our past. Galilee awaits us when we are absolutely sure that nothing can ever change, including us; it is precisely there, in Galilee, that the Risen Jesus awaits us.
What awaits us in Galilee is not a swift kick in the pants for all that we did or failed to do, all that we said or forgot to say. What awaits us in Galilee is a lover’s embrace by One who is ready to steady us in our confusion and console us in our grief; One who is ready to hold us firmly by our hands and say: “Okay, friend, let’s have a try at this again.”
And yet, as much as I wish it did, Mark’s enigmatic Easter story does not close in Galilee. When the women leave the tomb, they don’t head to Galilee, at least as far as we know. After hearing glad tidings of “He has been raised. He is not here,” the women do not shout a loud “Alleluia,” or even whisper it, for that matter. They are too well acquainted with Golgotha on that Easter morning to set their sights on Galilee.
So, as Mark tells it, “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.” On that odd and painful note, Mark’s Easter story closes. Notice I said “close,” because it doesn’t really end with three silent women leaving the empty tomb in fear. Mark’s Easter story ends each day by the choice that you and I make to stay in Golgotha or to go to Galilee, to that daunting place where the Risen Jesus awaits us but so does the long and often hard and bitter journey of faith. Mark’s Gospel ends not in cold tombs or in sterile funeral parlors or by freshly dug graves; it ends not even in the annual pomp and circumstance of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
For Mark, the Easter story ends whenever you and I can speak again, can set aside our fears and doubts and head back to Galilee, trusting that the Risen One awaits us, forgives us, loves us, and is ready to journey with us on the hard and redeeming path of faith.
I suspect that whenever you and I find it within ourselves to travel to Galilee we will not only be met by the Risen Jesus but by women who left the tomb terrified and mute initially, but who finally found their way back to Galilee and found someone waiting for them with open arms.
Thanks to Mark, my Easter prayer is that one day you and I will meet the Risen Jesus in Galilee.
He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!