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I love to hike in the forests around here. I know that a lot of you all do, too. One of the things that I really like is going high, to the top of a mountain, and looking out around me. The vistas are fantastic, I know, but I’m usually looking for more than just post-card views. I’m looking to get the lay of the land. I want to create a map in my head so that if I get disoriented I can find my way back.
Getting back is important to me. I know, because I know what it’s like to wonder if I will actually get back. One time when I was a teen a couple of friends and I went hunting in the Amazon jungle of eastern Ecuador. We drove up the Jivino River by motor-canoe for a day and made camp where an oil company had put in a seismic survey path through the jungle. It ran straight as an arrow for miles, and it served as an orientation point for our wanderings in the thick greenery. One day we chased some game off the trail and got turned around. We thought we knew the lay of the land but we were wrong. The jungle is not a place where there are wild edible fruits hanging from every other tree. It is a horrible place not to be able to leave. Obviously I got out, as did my friends, but it remains in my mind one of those moments of fear.
We’ve been talking about wilderness experiences during Lent. This memory put me in intimate contact with the wilderness experience of being lost. As you probably know as well as I, there’s something profoundly lonely about being lost. When you fear you’ll lose it all your mind goes back to the faces of your loved ones. It is your community that you miss the most.
I can’t help but think that the women who went to Jesus’ tomb on this morning so many years ago felt like that. They were lost, too. They thought they knew the lay of the land:
Jesus, the coming promised Messiah, would throw out the Romans, and re-establish the golden age of Israel under the rule of the descendent of David, promised of old. All illness would be banished, and they would live in peace and prosperity.
Suddenly all that had changed. He had been cruelly and, if I might add a self-contradictory phrase, legally murdered. The undeniable truth was that Jesus was dead, and if he was dead, they were lost, and lost is a really lonely feeling. At least they had one another, like I had my friends in the jungle.
The shock of not finding Jesus’ body there, as recorded in the Gospel of John, with Mary Magdalene, is a story of adding insult to injury. “What, couldn’t you have at least left his body alone? It was all we had left, and now even that is gone.” In this story the feelings of injury are not recorded, just the shocking and unexpected news given by angels that he was risen, and therefore was not to be found here. The change of scenery from hope to hopelessness has changed once more. The lay of the land they thought they knew would not help them now, either.
A Messiah that rises from the dead is no mere political liberator. He has remade the world in another model. Creation itself has shifted.
As I said, we found the path out of the jungle. What was the path that these women found out of their lost-ness? It was not merely an empty grave. That was the signpost to the path, the trial-head, so to speak. The path itself only begins there.
It was not a return to the world they knew. The only symbol of that here is the Roman guard, and they become as good as dead. The earth-quake has tumbled them into heaps. The earth itself has shifted, and nothing is the same anymore. They could not go back to merely being obedient residents of a Roman colony, as if Jesus had never entered their lives. No, going back isn’t the way forward.
What they find is community. First, they meet angels. Angels are messengers. They bring the word of another. They bring a message from Jesus! Ah, he is not utterly lost to them!
The message itself is important. “Tell the others to go to Galilee.” Galilee, the scene of so many of their Jesus stories, witness to so many miracles and teaching! Why not go back there? There is another reason for Galilee. This is not merely a return to life with Jesus before the Crucifixion. Going back is not the way forward.
Galilee of the Gentiles was a border area, between Jewish Judea to the south and Greek Syria to the north. Border areas, as we well know, are areas of ferment. Two worlds come together here, creating in a way a third something that is neither what either parent cultures are, and yet in many ways more than either of them.
The Rev. Virgilio Elizondo writes a wonderful book about Galilee and US-Mexico border areas in his book, The Galilean Journey. (2000) He says that border areas open us up to a new reality, a new humanity, in this case, the new humanity being created by Jesus’ resurrection. The message is to gather the disciples for something new, a new kind of community in the world, a new humanity, rooted in self-giving love rather than the old worn-out power politics. The crowning moment, however, is when they meet Jesus himself. He confirms the message of the angels, “Go into Galilee, and there they will see me.”
Community, relationships, connection and engagement, finding oneself in the communion of the faithful, this is the path into the new thing that Jesus began at the resurrection. This is the full meaning of the empty tomb. Ilio Delio, in her masterful book, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, (2013) engages theology and cosmology at the same time to say that out of the Big Bang that began the whole of the physical universe as we call it. Out of that one unitive point of primordial matter comes all the diversity of creation. She concludes that the basis of God’s creation is unity in diversity; a certain baseline unity out of which incredible diversity emerges, all in a dance of relationships in which we know our unity and our diversity.
Bowen’s Family Systems Theory psychologizes the experience. True relationships are known when each of us engages fully with the others in community, and at the same time owns our unique identity. Healthy human systems are lived in a unity in diversity.
Jesus’ resurrection makes us something that otherwise we are not. It binds us together in a community that knows itself at once as one in Christ and diverse in gifts, talents, experiences, personalities and all that go into making us unique people. This is the re-creation of humanity.
I want to illustrate this for us. I ask that we all stand and hold hands. Make one long human chain that snakes through the whole church. Everybody is included, leave no one out. When we have us all together I want to show you something.
(Beedle, beedle, beedle!)
An LED energy stick works on the basis of the electric energy generated by the human body. All it needs is two contact points—two, not one: relationship, not isolation, reconciliation, not alienation, each sharing the energy within to make the common whole. This is resurrection life.
More than just an empty tomb, the people of God in a community of self-giving love are the living, breathing proof of the resurrection of our Lord.
Alleluia, the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!