The Blog of Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
He Came Back...To Us!
And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb…. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe,…he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised;… he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." Mark 16:2-7
Mark says that on that first Easter, women went to the tomb to pay their last respects to poor, dead Jesus. To their alarm, the body of Jesus was not there. A "young man, dressed in a white robe" told them, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified? Well, he isn't here. He is raised. He is going ahead of you to Galilee."
Here's my Easter question for you: Why Galilee?
Galilee? Galilee is a forlorn, out of the way sort of place. It's where Jesus came from (which in itself was a shock -- "Can anything good come out of Galilee?"). Jesus is Galilee's only claim to fame. Jesus spent most of his ministry out in Galilee, the bucolic out back of Judea. He expended most of his teaching trying to prepare his forlorn disciples for their trip up to Jerusalem where the real action was. All of Jesus' disciples seem to have hailed from out in Galilee. Jesus' ultimate goal seems not to focus on Galilee but rather on the Capital City, Jerusalem. In Jerusalem he was crucified and in Jerusalem he rose. Pious believers in Jesus' day expected a restoration of Jerusalem in which Messiah would again make the Holy City the power-center that it deserved to be, the capital city of the world. Which makes all the more odd that the moment he rose from the dead, says tod ay's gospel, Jesus left the big city and headed back to Galilee. Why?
One might have thought that the first day of his resurrected life, the risen Christ might have made straight for the palace, the seat of Roman power, appear there and say,
"Pilate, you made a big mistake. Now, it's payback time!"
One might have thought that Jesus would do something effective. If you want to have maximum results, don't waste your time talking to the first person whom you meet on the street, figure out a way to get to the movers and the shakers, the influential and the newsmakers, those who have some power and prestige. If you really want to promote change, go to the top.
I recall an official of the National Council of Churches who, when asked why the Council had fallen on hard times and appeared to have so little influence, replied, "The Bush Administration has refused to welcome us to the White House." How on earth can we get anything done if the most powerful person on earth won't receive us at the White House?
But Jesus? He didn't go up to the palace, the White House, the Kremlin, or Downing Street. (Jesus never got on well with politicians.) Jesus went outback, back to Galilee.
Why Galilee? Nobody special lived in Galilee, nobody except the followers of Jesus. Us.
The resurrected Christ comes back to, appears before the very same rag tag group of failures who so disappointed him, misunderstood him, forsook him and fled into the darkness. He returns to his betrayers. He returns to us.
It would have been news enough that Christ had died, but the good news was that he died for us. As Paul said elsewhere, one of us might be willing to die for a really good person but Christ shows that he is not one of us by his willingness to die for sinners like us. His response to our sinful antics was not to punish or judge us. Rather, he came back to us, flooding our flat world not with the wrath that we deserved but with his vivid presence that we did not deserve.
It would have been news enough that Christ rose from the dead, but the good news was that he rose for us.
That first Easter, nobody actually saw Jesus rise from the dead. They saw him afterwards. They didn't appear to him; he appeared to them. Us. In the Bible, the "proof" of the resurrection is not the absence of Jesus' body from the tomb; it's the presence of Jesus to his followers. The gospel message of the resurrection is not first, "Though we die, we shall one day return to life," it is, "Though we were dead, Jesus returned to us."
If it was difficult to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, it must have been almost impossible to believe that he was raised and returned to us. The result of Easter, the product of the Resurrection of Christ is the church -- a community of people with nothing more to convene us than that the risen Christ came back to us. That's our only claim, our only hope. He came back to Galilee. He came back to us.
In life, in death, in any life beyond death, this is our great hope and our great commission. Hallelujah! Go! Tell! The risen Christ came back to Birmingham, uh I mean Galilee.