When I went to seminary – to Moore College in Newtown – there was a resident chapel there known as the Cash Chapel (named after the guy who donated it, not after how he paid for it). Now when people set up a church building or a chapel, they tend to design it with the communion table at the centre, and you’ll always find some words of Scripture written on the table.
Ours has ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, which seems entirely appropriate, though it’s not as common as ‘Do this in Remembrance of Me’. On the table in the Cash Chapel you’ll find the words ‘He is not here’, which seem like an odd thing put at the centre of your church building, as most people turn up to church hoping that He is here.
Here we are, Easter Day 2005. Some of us are here as we are here every week. Others of us are here as we are here every year. Perhaps some of us are here for the first time. But however you come to be here, I suspect that if we asked you to give the reasons why you are here, it would have something to do with the fact that you believed that God was also here. And yet the good news that we are greeted with this morning takes us on an entirely different tack. ‘You come looking for Jesus. Sorry. He is not here!’
And then we get these angels telling us where He was. ‘He was here: ‘Come, look at the grave cloths’. You can see where He was.’ And they tell us too where He soon will be – ‘He will be in Galilee’ – but they shed no light at all on where He is!
When I read through the resurrection account here and look at it side by side with the other accounts in the other gospels, the overwhelming impression I get is one of confusion. Nobody quite seems to know what is going on.
Some things are clear. The body of Jesus is gone. No one disputes that. And the stone was no longer over the tomb. That’s clear too. How the stone got moved is not so clear.
Matthew says there was an earthquake that shifted the stone, though the other gospel writers don’t seem to know how it got moved. There is also some dispute over who first discovered the empty tomb. We know that it was the women who came first and that the men only came later. As to how many other persons there were who were at the scene of the empty tomb on that Easter morning, nobody seems to be entirely clear.
Matthew mentions one character dressed in white who was found sitting on top of the stone. Luke mentions two guys in white, while John didn’t notice either of those guys, but only the guy they took to be the gardener, and we’re not told how he was dressed.
Easter is confusing! We thought Jesus was dead. We thought we knew where to find Him. Now it appears that He is not dead. But what exactly has happened to Him, why He is not dead, and where He is now – these things are all complete mysteries. Nothing seems to be turning out quite like we expected it to. ‘Sorry. All we can tell you is … He is not here!’
Now that’s not quite true, is it? We don’t know where He is, but we do know where He’s going. He is headed in the direction of Galilee, though you may be forgiven for thinking that this detail adds no greater clarity to the overall picture whatsoever. Indeed, it is a bizarre detail!
It was there twice in our reading this morning. The man in white said ‘Behold, he is going before you into Galilee.’ And then Jesus Himself meets a handful of them and says ‘Tell the others to meet me in Galilee’. Likewise in Mark’s gospel the women are told ‘go, tell the disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galilee and there you will see him.’
It’s such a bizarre detail that it has the ring of truth about it, I think, because it seems such a strange thing to record, unless that’s actually exactly how it happened.
Why on earth would Jesus go ahead of them into Galilee? Why wouldn’t He meet them there at the empty tomb? Why wouldn’t He come looking for them? And if He wanted to meet them somewhere off-site, why Galilee? Why not Jerusalem, which is where they last gathered together? Or, while we’re looking at capital cities, why not somewhere grander? Why not Rome?
It seems like such an odd detail to record, unless that is exactly what happened. And it seems particularly odd because, in three of the four gospels, no mention is ever made of any meeting in Galilee ever taking place!
That’s part of the confusion I think. The disciples come looking for Jesus and He isn’t there. They are told where to go if they want to find Him, and yet most of them don’t seem to head off in that direction at all. Most of them appear to head straight back to Jerusalem, where Jesus has to come and seek them out! And two of them, we are told, actually head off for dinner in Emmaus, which is a full days walk South!
What is going on in those guys’ minds? ‘Yes, we heard about Jesus coming back from the dead, and we heard that we were supposed to head down to Galilee to meet Him, but unfortunately we had a dinner engagement in Emmaus, and we just couldn’t break that appointment – you know how it is.’
What were they thinking? Did they really just not believe it at all? Or were they just very confused?
Mind you, we behave in much the same way. We come here and proclaim loudly that Jesus has risen from the dead and that death has been conquered and that all of human history is now about to find it’s climactic fulfillment in the coming of the Kingdom of God, and then we head back to our homes and don’t change any of our appointments either. We get on with the business of life as if nothing has happened too. Maybe we’re equally confused.
The words I want to focus on this morning though in our time this morning are those words of prophecy, given to the disciples at the tomb: “He will go before you into Galilee”.
It is a strange little detail I think, and one that could be easily overlooked, because nothing more becomes of it in the Gospel stories.
Why would He go to Galilee we might ask? ‘Why Galilee indeed?’ most of His contemporaries probably would have responded. Because, from what we pick up in the gospels, Galilee was one of the seediest places in the whole of Israel!
‘Can anything good come out of Galilee?’ people used to ask. Galilee was not the sort of place from which cultured, educated, well-to-do people emerged, and Galilee was not the sort of place where cultured, educated, well-to-do people ever visited. Galilee was a place with a poor reputation
‘Hi, I’m Father Dave from Dulwich Hill’ I say when I introduce myself to others. ‘Can anything good come out of Dulwich Hill?’ people ask. Dulwich Hill is not a place with a great reputation.
It’s not as bad as it used to be of course. When I was a teenager and used to have to play school rugby against the boys from Dulwich Hill, our team was so terrified, that almost everyone would take a sickie on that day! Dulwich Hill was a place that was well-known for being as rough as guts.‘Can anything good come out of Dulwich Hill?’
And yet that was where Jesus was to be found! Not in Rome, not in Jerusalem, not even in a temple, but in Galilee – amongst the poor and the wretched.
And it’s not clear how it all worked out – whether Jesus went straight to Galilee and just waited – tapped his foot for a while, waiting for the disciples to show up, before eventually heading back to Jerusalem and even down to Emmaus, to round them all up and then sort of drag them into Galilee because it was there that He wanted to meet them, and because it was there that He wanted them to begin their ministry, because it was from there that He was going to begin a multi-cultural mission to the entire world! ‘He has gone ahead of you into Galilee, and there He will meet you!’
Friends, I get the feeling that many of us turn up to church, perhaps at Easter perhaps especially, because we want to get our weekly or yearly dose of God, touch base with Jesus, recharge our spiritual batteries, and then go home comforted in the knowledge that God is in His heaven and that all is right with the world.
If that is your expectation this morning, I’ve got some rather disturbing and potentially confusing news for you: “He is not here. He is risen, and He has gone on ahead of you, and He is out there with the despised and the wretched, the sick and the imprisoned, the hungry and the lonely, the single mums and the addicts. He is out there, and He is waiting for you to join Him”.
And if you haven’t found Him yet, then head out there and find Him, because only when you’ve found Him there will you be able to find Him in here too!
First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, 31st March, 2002.