Expecting Life

The Easter journey may begin in Jerusalem; but the destination is Galilee. Once a year, we read some version this story. The angel rolls the stone away. The women who followed Jesus are the first to arrive at the grave, the first to meet the risen Jesus, the first to preach resurrection to the rest of the disciples.

Once a year, we are reminded that the story of resurrection that is at the center of our faith. Everything that came before and follows after is just commentary on that single moment when Christ defied and defeated death.

Once a year, we are invited to consider absence more than presence. The cross that once held a lifeless man is now empty. The tomb where a hopeful Messiah had been buried now stands bare.

Once a year, even when death is anticipated, we learn to expect life.

And once a year, we gather in a packed church. Children exhaust themselves “hunting” for eggs. Choirs, bells, musicians raise our spirits in song. The smell of fresh Easter lilies fills the air. Oh, why can it be like this all year long?

I can’t tell you the number of times I have thought that very thing – actually, yes I can. I can tell you exactly how many times: ten. Ten times I have stood in our chancel, looking out on a “full house” on Easter Sunday, with people smiling and singing, and have thought to myself, “Why can’t it be like this all year long?”

But it isn’t always like this. If you come next Sunday, it won’t be the same. It’ll still be Easter – in fact, the Easter season lasts through the end of May. But we won’t be hiding any more eggs. We won’t have communion for a while. The congregation will be about half the size of what it is today. We’ll have children, enough for an active nursery and a couple of bustling Sunday School classes, but not nearly the throng that swarmed the front lawn this morning. There will be refreshments, but not quite the spread that we have today. If we’re honest, after the rush of Easter morning, the following Sunday is a bit of a letdown.

But then, that’s nothing compared to the summer time! If you want to see the opposite of Easter, come in July! School is out. Everyone seems to be traveling. That’s when we really get to spread out, find some elbow room. Man, does this place clear out when the weather gets warm! Some years we have even cancelled Sunday School because the attendance is so low! It’s actually quite depressing! Ha!

If I really think about it, in reality, there are three times a year we have a huge blowout presence: Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve, and Preschool Sunday. The rest of the year, the other 49 or 50 weeks, seem like a mere shadow of what could be. You know, if you stopped to think about it, it could really take the wind out of your sails! (sigh)

Oh well…Anyway…Where was I?

Oh, yes: the Easter journey begins in Jerusalem; but the destination is Galilee.

Galilee is where this story of Jesus first started to build momentum, three years before all the events of Easter morning happened. Galilee is where Jesus grew up. It’s his home territory.

Jesus first gathered a following in those fishing villages around the Sea there. Disciples began to accompany him from town to town. His reputation as a teacher and healer and miracle worker preceded him, and so the crowds grew larger and larger. And then, suddenly, after three years, he turned everything toward Jerusalem. It can’t have been an easy decision. Galilee is quiet – kind of boring. Jerusalem is everything Galilee isn’t. Jesus knew what awaited him there, the drama that we have just remembered over the past week. What began in Palm Sunday with adoring crowds waving branches quickly turned to calls to crucify him. Even his closest friends, those who come with him from the Galilee, soon betrayed him and hid in fear.

And then…the unprecedented happens. Jesus rose again that Easter morning. And as our lesson begins to unfurl today, we get to see this news as it dawns on those who loved and cherished him. The one they had pinned their hopes on, the one they had willingly followed from the boring countryside into the bustling capital city, the one they had grieved beyond grief: he was alive! We can almost imagine their thoughts:

Time to seize the moment! What pageantry will surely follow! Another grand parade, but in this one, Jesus, you’ll take the throne of Herod and re-establish the great and storied lineage of David! Jerusalem has finally met its match! Those who have been cast aside will now take center stage! Trumpets will blare, throngs will gather, the ancient glory of Israel will be restored, the crowning jewel of God’s glo –

Wait, what’s that, Jesus? Oh…we’re not staying in Jerusalem, you say? Back to Galilee, is it? OK, then. We’ll go tell the others. Should we carpool? No? You’ll meet us there? OK. Um, all right…Welcome back! Good to see you! Happy, uh, Happy Life Day? Easter? That’s what we’re calling it? OK. Sure. Happy Easter.

All of that build up! For three full Galilee years, Jesus gathered disciples, taught and healed, performed miracles, and revealed prophecies, all leading to this resurrection moment! So, now where’s the payoff? Where’s the sustain, the hook? We’ve seen the comeback. Where’s the big follow-up?

But that’s not what we get. We are told to go back to Galilee. And there, we will spend time with the risen Jesus. In the few weeks ahead, he will ready his followers for the road ahead. It’s time for the message and the movement to pass on from him to us. More preaching, more teaching, more traveling, more healing…along with our persecution and suffering, glory and wonder.

The Easter journey may have begun in Jerusalem, but the destination is Galilee.

Jerusalem has this mystery, this allure. It feels like the prize, the goal. The truth, however, is that the normalcy of Galilee has been the point all along. That’s what God had in store from the beginning. Jerusalem has it’s place, but it’s only the fulcrum, the tipping point, the grand moment of drama that puts everything else in perspective. You can’t stay in Jerusalem; you have to go back to Galilee.

Isn’t that true about life in general, though? Is there anything we do that stays in elegant drama? Graduation is a celebration of hard work paid off. The moment itself is full of pageantry, but hard work also waits on the other side. Vacation is a treasured respite, but their days are fleeting. The Road Race comes after a lot of training; but the feeling of satisfaction that follows its completion fades quickly. The wedding is quite the joyful moment. The honeymoon follows. But the marriage itself has little in common with either one.

Most things in life have their Jerusalems, their peak moments. But there’s whole lot of Galilee, of trudge, of normal, on either side. If that’s the case, why would our approach to faith be any different?

I don’t know what might have brought you to church today. Some of you are there week in and week out. Others of you are there once or twice a year, coming in and out just for those Jerusalem moments – maybe trying to revisit your own ancient memories of the pageantry. Some of you might be looking for a place to call your Galilee, your spiritual home. There are those of you there because you might be wondering all the fuss is about anyhow. And I’m sure there are those of you who have a church home already but went to Oglethorpe today because it’s easier to find a parking place and get a seat.

Whatever the case is for you, if you take nothing away from today’s service, I hope it is this: Easter is not the destination. It’s not the end all and be all of loving God and being loved by God. It is a crucial, pivotal, tangible moment – but it is just that: a moment; because after today, it’s time to go to Galilee. After all, Jesus is waiting to meet us there.

This is important: Jesus is waiting to meet us there. The life of faith isn’t about you alone and Jesus, off by yourselves. It’s about ya’ll and Jesus together. Life in the everyday of Galilee is life lived in community. We strengthen one another. We challenge one another. We lift up one another when we fall; we pull each other back to earth when we get too lofty. In the life of faith, being in community is what makes us better. It’s how we grow, how we are stretched, how we train for the great race.

Friends, going from Jerusalem moment to Jerusalem moment is easy, but it's unsustainable. It’s the in-between, the life lived in Galilee, that makes all the difference in the world. Those are the stretches where we learn how to be people of faith. Those are the periods where we learn what it means to be love God and be loved by God, to be living witnesses to Christ and Christ’s love. Those are the seasons where we learn that faithfulness is embodied the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.

After all, the Easter journey may begin in Jerusalem; but the destination is, and always has been, Galilee. Are you ready to go and meet Jesus there? If so, I’ll see you next Sunday.