And the angel said to the women, “He has been raised; he is not here. He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
After this stunning proclamation, Mark tells us that the women fled in fear, and told no one. At one time, this account of the Gospel ended abruptly with their flight and silence. It was so troubling an ending that someone in Mark’s church later added more verses, so that it could end more positively. But the hope in the angel’s proclamation cannot be disguised.
As Jesus went before the disciples to Galilee, so he goes before us today. This is the Easter message: that the crucified One is risen, and goes before us. We understand Christ to be present before us in the Holy Spirit. We don’t see him, because Jesus goes before us.
This single message, and this most singular message of the angel brims with hope. His brutal death, and even the fearful flight of the women, cannot stop Jesus from going before us. For he is risen, Alleluia!
Last weekend, my beloved uncle Bruce, whose name I carry as my middle name, was buried. There is no question in my mind or in my soul that Bruce followed the risen Christ into Paradise. Bruce stood before the One who created the cosmos, and that One welcomed Bruce, and summoned Bruce, “Come to me.”
Jesus Christ goes before us not just into heaven, but also into hell. Once, a young girl ran up to her bishop before the Easter service. She called out, “Bishop. Bishop. Where did Jesus go when he died?” The bishop smiled, stooped down and said to the girl, “He went to hell, to get his good friend, Judas.”
Here is undisguised hope. Here is naked hope. Here is our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not by our doing, but rather because of our grievous sins, our most shameful failures, our darkest temptations did Jesus Christ die, was raised again, and goes before us.
One day, when I was somewhere around three years old, I was playing beside Fan Lake, in Eastern Washington. My older sister and her friends were fishing off the end of a dock. One of the girls squealed with delight, because she caught a fish. Up I jumped to see the action. My all the girls and my mother were leaning over the edge of the dock, eager to see the catch. I ran full speed down the dock, and hit the target of my mothers backside. She toppled into the lake. In horror, I jumped in to save her. The only problem was that mom could swim, and I couldn’t.
I have the most vivid, yet surrealistic memory of that underwater world. I saw everything clearly as I slowly sank toward the bottom of the lake. It was then that the Jesus-who-goes-before met me. Suddenly, I saw in my mind one of the turtles in that lake moving his legs to swim. So I started to move my arms and legs like a turtle, and I slowly turned toward the surface of the lake, where my mother could pull me out, and I could ahhhhhhhhh, breathe again!
But the message of the angel overflows with even more hope. For hope beyond hope, Jesus goes before us, not just into the highest heaven, not just to the depths of hell, and not just to our watery disasters, but Jesus goes before us into…Galilee. That is, into our homes, into our work places, into our schools, into our cars, into our living rooms, into our restaurants, and into our shops. The angel said, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Now, praise be to God! Jesus goes before us to Galilee. Jesus leads us back home where loved ones reside, and where hope runs free. Jesus goes before us to Galilee where there is work to do, and people to care for. He goes before us where people suffer and jobs are lost. He goes before us where children are raised, and we delight in birds singing early in the morning—there was such a chorus of birds singing Easter praise this morning! He goes before us where we walk on the beach, where angry people hurt others, and where tough decisions are made.
And it is here, in Galilee, where the final promise of the angel is fulfilled, “There you will see him, just as he told you.” For we not only see Jesus Christ, but we become Jesus Christ to others. We make him visible when we live according to the promised hope, and when we love others in the power of eathe Spirit.
Let us not flee from the Truth in fear, as the women did, but let us share the message. Let us give away God’s hope in the telling of our stories. Let us make him known in our love for one another, and in our love for our enemies. Let us see him in the breaking of the bread, in feeding bread to others, and in our love and delight.
For my friends, this is Galilee, and it is Easter. Jesus goes before us, and see, he is here. Alleluia!
The Rev. Rick Matters
All Saints’, Carmel