Last summer I read, The Returned, by Jason Mott, which is now the basis for the new ABC series, Resurrection. The book and series are based on Mr. Mott’s attempt to answer the question, what would he do if people from his past suddenly returned to life. His questions included: How would he react? What would he say? And what would happen?
As I pondered Mr. Mott’s initial question, I had to ask, of all the people who have died from my life, who would I want to see again? There are a handful of people who I would love to have one last conversation with. Joey, the young man from my State of Connecticut case load who died at 18. Scott, my best friend in elementary school, who died in a car accident at 16. Most of all, I think it would be my maternal Grandfather, who died when I was four years old. I am not sure how I would react if I saw any of these people again. I think if anything I would be dumbfounded, overwhelmed and most likely unable to think clearly.
As I think through seeing my grandfather again, I imagine finding him in his vegetable garden, planting his seeds as he did every spring. I would join him there as I did when I was four years old. He would jab his pole into the ground and I would drop the seeds in each hole and then cover them with soil. I’m not sure what we would talk about. Perhaps at most, what I would really want to do is get to know the man I remember so fondly as a child as an adult.
Where we would go from there, I have no idea. I am not four years old anymore, it’s not 1966, and the gardens he once tended so lovingly are no longer there. Life has changed greatly in the forty-eight years since he died.
As I work to imagine my grandfather’s return, it helps me understand the emotions that fill this morning’s gospel. I understand why Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus at first. Because just like you and me, she knew Jesus was dead. She saw Jesus die as she stood at the foot of the cross. And she followed the body with Mary, Jesus mother, to the tomb where he was laid. Yes, the body was gone. The logical assumption, grave robbers, a regular part of ancient Palestinian life, not resurrection. There was no way that she or, any of the Apostles, could imagine resurrection to be possible.
It comes as no surprise that all Mary wanted to do after she recognized Jesus voice was to wrap her arms around him and hold onto him for dear life. But Jesus would not let her do this. He knew they could not stay near the tomb. Both had to leave the garden. Both had to leave behind what was, death itself and begin the new life that awaited them both.
In the Matthew’s Gospel, the scene plays out differently. As the women approach the tomb an earthquake erupts and the stone which sealed the tomb rolls away. Jesus is still not there but two angels, messengers of God, now sit where the body once laid. “Do not be afraid,” they tell the women, “I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised . . . Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”
According to Matthew, Jesus is not to be found in the garden living among the dead. Instead, he is in Galilee, where his ministry began three years earlier. The is where the apostles must find him, in Galilee for the same reason Mary cannot hold onto to Jesus in the Garden, with resurrection, life has begun again. The cosmic restart button has been pressed, God has again brought forth new life from the midst of death and darkness, and nothingness.
The challenge we face today is, do we believe that resurrection marks the beginning of life and not the end? Are we willing to walk away from the tomb and the bonds of death into the new life of God in Christ? Often times we forget as Christians, or story begins here with Easter morning and not with the Christmas story. This means our story begins with the re-creation, the new Eden and not the cross or the tomb.
It is with this story, the story of resurrection, we are assured, that, through God, all things are possible. That the Garden of Eden can be restored and all that blocks us from it, poverty, injustice and all the forces of evil can and are being destroyed.
In a few minutes time, we too will return to where our ministry began, we will renew and refresh our faith, we will recommit to the resurrection by renewing our baptismal vows.
It is through the waters of our baptism that our ministry began, that we were commissioned as apostles and sent out to our own Galilee. For Galilee is not just a village in Israel, it is the place where each of us have found the resurrected Christ in our lives and then were called to proclaim the resurrection. For St. Paul, his Galilee was found on the Road to Damascus. For Mary Magdalen, her Galilee was in the garden near the tomb, for the Apostles it was in the upper room where they hid in fear.
So where is your Galilee, where is the place where you first encountered the living Christ, and where have you been sent to tell of your experience, to tell your story of the risen Christ? For Christ is alive and we are commanded to tell the world.