Jer 31:1-6; Ps 118: 1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43; Matt 28:1-10
Christos anesti! He is risen! We gather here at the dawn of a miraculous day. Life has returned to the dead and hope to a troubled world. The order we thought we knew has been upended; the power of death has been broken forever; and the things that looked broken — well, if God can raise the dead, nothing and no-one can be counted as lost.
The women went to the tomb to mourn. The women dragged their aching bodies, weighed down with grief and dread, just as the sun was dawning. They went with longing for one they would never see again, and they went, most likely, with fear that they might be caught by the authorities. And then, just as they thought they were beyond joy, an angel appeared and said to them “I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified.” I know that you seek Jesus. What an astonishing thing! These women, who meant nothing in the sight of the world, women who have come to a tomb to grieve, are addressed by an angel in blazing light, who says to them, I know the sorrows of your heart.
Long before this day, when the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and said, “I have observed the misery of my people…; I have heard their cry…; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.” (Ex 3:7-8) The promise that God set in motion then is fulfilled today, not just in an exodus from earthly bondage, but in God’s gift of freedom from the ultimate bondage of death. And the relationship God revealed that day — a relationship with a God who knows us, who cares for us, who hears our cries, and who responds, — that is fulfilled in the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus. Jesus, who heard our pain, entered into our suffering, shared our joys and our death, and has broken the hold of the tomb forever.
The women must have been stunned and confused; this news was too good to believe, too strange and mysterious not to. But the angel does not leave them in their wonderment. He continues, “He is not here; he has been raised. He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there, you will see him.” (Matt 28:6-7) There you will see him. “There” was Galilee, the place where Jesus had begun his ministry, the place which many of the disciples called home. In calling them to go to Galilee, he was calling them home, to the place, above all, that would ease their heart.
There’s a strange thing about Galilee, though: over and over, the Bible refers to it as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” That’s because Galilee was a lost land: it had been part of Israel, but the Assyrians had conquered it and sent most of the Hebrews into exile. It had remained largely uninhabited for centuries, then was re-settled by Jews who lived among Gentiles. It was a low-class land, Hicksville, not where people wanted to be. But still, the land where Jesus was calling them was itself a sign that what had been lost could be restored again, that empty cities and deserted homes could be brought to life.
We need that sign, you and I, the sign of Resurrection, for we have emerged from the height of the pandemic into a profoundly disordered world. At the start of the pandemic, many dared to hope that we would emerge into a world transformed — a greener world, more just; a world in which the sacrifices we had made would pave the way for something better; in which the horrifying loss of life would be, somehow, redeemed. That hope has proven to have been a mirage. Instead, climate change is accelerating, and while green technologies are being developed and deployed, they are not growing rapidly enough. The far right is ascendant in many areas of the world, and people are losing human rights they had assumed were theirs forever. (After all, that’s what a “right” is supposed to mean: something which no one can take away from you.) There is war in Europe, violence in the Holy Land and Haiti and Iran, refugees moving from one nation to another, hoping to find a place to rest. This looks more like a crucified world than like one which has been redeemed.
But Christ came to such a world. Christ chose to be crucified so that we would not have to be. And he went before the disciples, not to Jerusalem, the holy city, but to Galilee, the despised land. The land no one would have chosen, just as we inhabit a set of problems we would not have chosen.
So now, beloved of God, what the angel said to the women, I say to you: “I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised.” I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified. Why else would you be gathered here on Sunday morning, if not to seek Jesus? If not because, in spite of the clamoring of your rational mind, something in you dares to hope — to hope for something you may not even be able to name. If you are weary, if you are broken, if you are thinking your life may never be what you had longed for, Christ’s resurrection is for you.
Living in hope is a difficult thing. As Esau McCaulley reminds us, hope “is a demanding emotion that insists on changing you. Hope pulls you out of yourself and into the world, forcing you to believe more is possible. Hate is a much less insistent master; it asks you only to loathe.”  And yet, we are here, you and I, because we have chosen not to hate. In a world drawn taut between the power of love and the power of destruction, we are people who have chosen to love — to love the best we can, even if that’s not very well, trusting that, somehow, it will be enough.
The angel said to the women, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him” — but the angel lied! No sooner do the women turn in their joy and their confusion and begin to run toward the room where the male disciples are huddled in fear, than Jesus appears to them and arrests their flight. Not in Galilee, but right there, on the ground of his burial which has become the place of new life. And the women fall on their faces and throw their arms around his legs and worship him. They do not question; they adore.
Do you remember the first time you saw your loved ones after we emerged from Covid isolation? How you went with your heart in your throat and embraced those people you feared you’d never see again, and held them and held them and did not let go? This is that embrace, the one in which love drives out the fear of loss and ushers in a future in which we can be together. Just as Adam and Eve left Eden hand in hand, so we enter this brave new world, together.
The astonishing thing about this scene is its utter ordinariness. The angel may have come with lightning and a shaking of the earth, but Jesus comes as an ordinary man in an ordinary place. A man who can be touched, held, embraced; a man who does not want to wait one minute longer to see the faces of his friends; a man who stands on broken earth, just as we do.
The poet Jan Richardson, imagining an aged Eve long after her exile from Eden, puts these words in her mouth:
I took the tree with me
the day I left Eden,
the day I decided not to die,
the day I chose instead
to sink my roots in the soil
of this terrible, stunning world. (“After Eden,” In the Sanctuary of Women)
That is the call of Easter, my friends. Not to place our hope in a celestial realm we can neither imagine nor control, but to sink our roots into the soil of this world, broken as it is. In the Gospel of John, the women mistake the risen Christ for a gardener — only, I think it was no mistake. This Jesus whom we love has tended this earth with constant care. He formed it with the Father before the worlds were made; he walked its dusty roads; embraced its scattered children; sanctified the place of our dying and restored us to life forever. And if Jesus treasured this world so, how can we do less?
My friends, we have been loved by God, and in the strength of that divine love, we can do what is needed. We can love this earth. We can love one another. We can go to all the waste places, the lost and forgotten lands. We can restore the ancient ruins, raise up the foundations, restore the streets so that little children can play in them. (Isaiah 58:12) We can do all this in the power of Christ, who did not leave us at the mercy of destruction, but has loved us with an everlasting love, and who goes before us every day of our life. It may take everything we’ve got, but God has already given us everything he is.
And so, this day and every day, we sing:
Rise, heart, thy lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and, much more, just. (George Herbert, “Easter”)
Alleluia! Christ is risen! And so, my friends, are we. So are we.
 New York Times, April 8, 2023.