A few years ago, I was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. If you’ve never been there, it’s one of the more touristy places in San Francisco, right along the water, filled with souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants, tour buses, and lots and lots of street performers.
As you walk along, you are treated to performances by jugglers, musicians, dancers, men in suits spray painted in silver and moving like mechanized robots. It’s a lot to take in.
On this day, the sky was bright blue and clear, the breeze from the ocean wasn’t too cold but the sidewalk was packed with pedestrian traffic. And I can’t remember exactly where I was going or why I was there. All I remember of that day is one particular moment.
I was walking along trying to maneuver through the crowd and “suddenly,” a man jumped out from behind a bush and scared the living daylights out of me. I jumped back, gasping in fear and surprise.
Some of the crowd of people laughed in response to my shock. You see, this was his street performance – to crouch behind a dried bush that he carried with him and watch for his next target. The people watching were, of course, his audience, the ones who dropped money in his bucket. It was harmless, really.
But I’ve wondered if Matthew’s sense of humor wasn’t a little bit like this street performer’s. Matthew uses the word “suddenly” to describe Mary and Mary’s meetings with the angel in white and with Jesus that morning. And the use of this word makes me think that Jesus couched behind some bushes in the early morning, like a prankster performance artist lying in wait for his friends to come by. And then just at the right moment… “ta-da!” “Greetings!”
Our friends Mary and Mary went through quite a bit that morning. While still grieving over the torturous death of their friend they wake before dawn to go and prepare his body for burial. And then they get there and “suddenly” there was a great earthquake followed by a shocking scene where a lightning bolt burst open the tomb leaving a figure dressed in white who has the nerve to tell them, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid?
Mary and Mary, Matthew tells us, respond with a mixture of “fear and great joy” as they flee the tomb at the angel’s command to “go and tell.” And then Jesus pops out of nowhere and shouts, “Greetings!” And their response is to drop to their knees.
That’s what “suddenly” does to us.
“Suddenly” jars us out of our everyday patterns and routines.
“Suddenly” gives us a sense that we aren’t in control.
“Suddenly” shows us that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot plan for everything.
“Suddenly” has to be one of the most humbling words in the English language. It brings us to our knees every time.
And the message is: “Do not be afraid. Go and tell.”
Do not be afraid. Go and tell.
I know we’re all here in this church today for different reasons, some because it feels good, some because we feel like we’re supposed to, some because we’re searching, some because it’s been a while and we want to be here.
I know we’re here looking for Jesus – but Jesus is not here.
At least not only here. Jesus has gone ahead of us to Galilee.
Galilee, the place outside the walls of the church. The place outside the walls of our hearts and our minds.
Galilee, where we suddenly find ourselves when God chooses to shake us awake out of our reverie, out of our patterns and routines, and reminds us of the love that is eternal – the Alpha and the Omega, Greek letters inscribed on this Pascal candle to signify the beginning and the end.
Galilee, where we are brought to our knees because we see Jesus.
We don’t like surprises. We want to know what to expect from our world. We like knowing what is going to happen. We desperately need to have some sense of control over our lives, our surroundings.
We expect people to show up how we need them to and we get mad when they don’t. We have opinions about security and safety because we confuse the importance of the things with the importance of their purpose.
We find all kinds of reasons to protect our hearts from being broken open in love because we don’t want to be brought to our knees.
Because we are sure that there is a tomb of death awaiting us. And we’d rather not be in it. And we think if we just protect ourselves in some way, we can stay out of the tomb.
But in our need to do this very thing, we have chosen to believe in it – to believe in the tomb of death. And that gives it power over us.
We’ve chosen to believe in an unreal world where “suddenly” is unwelcome. We’ve chosen to believe a lie about ourselves that tells us we are incapable of love and of being loved.
“Suddenly” is necessary because we believe in the unreal tomb of death. We believe in it so completely that, unless we have an angel in white standing in front of us appearing out of some pyrotechnic show of fire and smoke, we will just go on about our way… believing in death. Refusing to be brought to our knees.
But the tomb is not real. This is the Easter message: The tomb is not real.
What is real is Christ – seen and risen anew in a community that makes the choice to see only through the lens of love and uses that love to see beyond itself. A community of friends who know that the survival of our community is not our purpose. Our purpose is to go and tell in Galilee.
Go and tell of this love that is enteral – the Alpha and the Omega.
This is the only thing that is real. And it will bring us to our knees.
But don’t be afraid, my friends. Go and tell.
And I wish I had such abilities as that angel on the rock to shake us all out of our reveries to help us to understand just how profound the love of God is that is awaiting all of us when we believe in that eternal love, beyond anything we can imagine in our narrow understanding of reality governed by the expectations we have of people and the need we have to control our world. But I don’t yet have that skill.
All that I have, all that I can offer you is a deep belief that Christ is alive. That Christ is risen. And that Christ is waiting for us in Galilee.
Galilee – beyond our walls…
In our workplaces.
In our community.
On the curb offering ashes, in the yard blessing bikes.
Galilee – in our everyday walk through our everyday life.
Where we will see Jesus “suddenly” when we least expect it –
in the one who irritates us the most,
in the one who is homeless,
in the one who has hurt us the most,
in the one we most fear,
in the one who is in need,
in the one who is on the other side of the line we’ve drawn.
Our purpose is in Galilee, where we are called to serve.
Our purpose is to open ourselves to the “suddenlys” hiding in wait to shake us out of our expectations and fears and beliefs.
Our purpose is to go and tell, to go and love in Galilee.