Issue 13 - 6 April
Go to Galilee and wait for me there
At the Easter Vigil we enjoy listening to one of the most ancient and important hymns in the Church’s tradition: the Exsultet, literarily, Rejoice! In the early Church the deacon would have known the Exultet off by heart. The honor of singing it was handed down from one generation to the next.
There are several images in The Exultet that help us name our joy: freedom from slavery; an end to fear; the triumph of life over death; and God’s utter fidelity to his son, Jesus. The Exultet sings that God has not done this because we have earned or deserved it, but simply because He loves us. It is good to dwell on this last point for a moment. We have never done anything that can earn God’s saving love. It is a completely unearned, unmerited and undeserved gift, given to us in Jesus Christ. Our response to this gift is how we conduct our daily Christian lives disclosing to others by our justice and joy that we have found the best way to announce that life can be found where others only see death.
The Easter Vigil is the holiest of nights because it seals the family covenant between God and us. We are co-heirs with Jesus, sons and daughters of God. Is it any wonder, then, that heaven and earth are called to explode with joy?
As Christians, Easter joy is meant to mark our lives - though if some of us are truly joyful we should start by telling our faces about it! Not that we can, or should, walk around perpetually smiling. Christian joy is more profound than that. It’s about facing up to the most difficult and tragic moments in our lives, knowing that we don’t have to be afraid; that God’s faithful love will out in the end.
Pope Francis has consistently taught that Easter joy should mark our lives. “The Christian message is called the ‘Gospel,’ that is, ‘the good news,’ an announcement of joy for all people; the Church is not a refuge for sad people, the Church is a house of joy.” On another occasion the Holy Father said, “…if we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy - only nostalgia and melancholy, which is not healthy… [They]…have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.”
We all know this is easier said than done. Take for example one of the oldest Easter stories in the Gospels. The women are told twice to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will meet Jesus for themselves. The women do as they are asked and the disciples make the trip. I’ve always wondered about Galilee. What a desolate journey that must have been for them. Believing the extraordinary story of Mary Magdalene and her companions, the disciples set out in fear of their lives, and in the hope of seeing Jesus raised from the dead. There were no reassurances from anyone’s previous experience. No guidebooks or instructions about what to look for at the end. Not even a promise from Jesus himself. Just an instruction, “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.’”
Galilee does not have to be a place for us. It’s a situation, a frame of mind, or a choice we make. Let me tell you what I mean. Of all the spiritual directors I have ever had in my life one of the most insightful was going blind. A diocesan priest, Fr Ray Crowley, had a genetic disease that was causing him to slowly and very surely lose his eyesight. While the doctors could stall the progress of the disease, he was told that there was nothing that could be done for him in the long term. What would any of us do if we knew we were eventually going to go blind?
After speaking to Ray about my own spiritual journey for several months, one day I plucked up the courage to ask him how he could be so calm in the face of his imminent and total visual impairment. He looked at me and said, “You know in the Gospels where the disciples are sent to Galilee to meet the Risen Lord, well, I think I am being ask to go to blindness and there I will meet the risen Lord in a totally different way.” What faith! No wonder he was a spiritual director and I wasn’t. His profound wisdom and insight stays with me to his day.
Our particular Galilee could be the desolate journey of physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual pain. It could be dashed promises, broken relationships, or unrealized hopes. Whatever it is, Easter night promises us that Christ is not only there when we arrive, he has gone ahead of us, to that desolate place, so that we might have loving arms in which to fall at journey’s end.
The idea that the Easter journey is about new sight and insight is a rich one too. On Good Friday, when we always hear John’s Passion proclaimed we hear three great questions:
- “Who are you looking for?”
- “What charge do you bring against this man?”
- “Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?”
In John’s Passion the answers run:
- “Jesus of Nazareth;”
- “King of the Jews”;
- “I am not.”
We come to the joy of the Easter Vigil because we seek Jesus of Nazareth whose love has arrested us. We want to follow his way in our own discipleship whatever path and complex destination upon which we may have to embark.
I like the fact that the third question of John’s Passion is to Peter. Although Peter wanted to remain faithful to Jesus, fear got the better of him. Most of us can be empathetic to his plight. Faced with a choice between cutting and running and possible death, how many of us would choose death? And because actions always speak louder than words, every time we compromise the goodness of God within us, or work to undermine another person’s rights to dignity and life, we join Peter around that fire denying that we are Christ’s disciple. But the hapless, fickle and impulsive Peter found his way to Galilee and that’s where his discipleship began to come into its own. Some of us need a while for the Risen Christ’s call to settle and mature, and some space upon which to reflect on the choices that have bought us to this moment. Then we can see what choices might see greater days ahead.
If we feel apprehensive, then this Easter allows Christ to arrest us with his peace. If we stand accused of destructive behavior, allow Christ to covert our hearts and change our lives. If we deny Christ by what we say or how we live, let’s decide today to be as faithful to him as he is to us. Apprehension, accusation, and denial were not the last words in Jesus’ life and they are not meant to be so in our lives either.
The first Easter Vigil shows us in their place a joyful call even to unknown places with unexpected results can end in new life, and fresh starts.
With the whole Church we can make Mary Magdalene’s invitation to the disciples our own. This Easter let’s go to Galilee, wherever and whatever it might be, and find the Lord there. Then, we can explode with joy and ‘Sing Christ Risen.’