Easter Vigil 2020, remotely for COVID-19

Easter Vigil 2020

Return to Galilee!

GOSPEL
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and
the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone
and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For
fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the
women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. 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.’ This is my message for
you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his
disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him,
took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid;
go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Matthew 28:1-10

SERMON
The Gospel of the resurrection begins with the journey of the women to
the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath.
They go to the tomb to honor the body of the Lord by anointing it with
perfumed oils, but they find the tomb open and empty.
A young man, dressed in white, says to them, “Do not be afraid,” and
instructs them to go and tell the disciples: “He has been raised from the
dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.
In the continuing narrative, the women quickly depart and on the way
Jesus himself meets them and says: “Do not fear; go and tell my brothers
to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” “Do not be afraid”, “Do not fear”.
In these difficult times, in the darkness of this night through which the
human family is passing, oh how much we need to hear, both with our
ears and our hearts, the uncompromising assurance, the message borne,
again and again on the wings of angels, from the very beginning unto the
present moment, “Do not fear”, “Do not be afraid”. These are words that
encourage us to open our hearts to receive the earth changing and life
transforming annunciation, “He is Risen”, and the instruction, “Go to Galilee”.
After the death of Jesus, the disciples had scattered; their faith had been
utterly shaken, everything seemed lost, all their certainties had
crumbled and their hopes had died. Do not these times try our souls,
shake our faith, call into question all our certainties, and have the power
to drain us of hope?
But now the message of the women, incredible as it was, came to them
like a ray of light in that darkness.  The news spread: Jesus is Risen just
as he said.  And then there was his command to go to Galilee; the women
had heard it twice, first from the angel and then from Jesus himself: “Let
them go to Galilee; there they will see me”. “Do not be afraid” and “Go to
Galilee”.
We remember that Galilee is the place where they were first called,
where everything began!  To return there was to return to the place
where they were they first met Jesus.  Jesus had walked along the
shores of the Sea of Galilee as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He
had called them, and they left everything and followed him.
To return to Galilee, at this point in the story, means to journey back to
the beginning, to the place of our first encounter with Christ, and to
reassess everything, from that point forward, in the light of the cross
and its victory and to do so, fearlessly: “Do not be afraid”.
To reassess everything – the preaching of Jesus, his miracles, the new
community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to
reassess everything, starting from the end, which is a new beginning.
Starting from this supreme act of love that was the cross. The cross is
where God apologized for the pain and suffering in life by taking it upon
himself and uniting himself with us in it, even to death.
For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with
Jesus. “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means
rediscovering our baptism as a living fountain, drawing new energy
from the sources of our faith and from our Christian experience.
To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with
which God’s grace touched me at the start of my journey – at the start of my life in the Spirit. That blazing light might now be only a glowing
ember amid the ashes of life’s trials and tribulations, disappointments
and failures, and crumbling of all that we have taken for granted as
normal.
But even from that ember God wills to and can ignite a flame that will
burn brightly for today and every day, both for myself, and, that I might
bring warmth and light to my brothers and sisters.  That flame ignites a
humble joy, a joy, which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a joy that
terror cannot undo, a joy that is not subject to fear, a good and a gentle
joy that the world cannot give and cannot take away.
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also another
“Galilee”, a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal
encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in
his mission. For each us that encounter with the risen Lord is unique
and uniquely personal but so terribly real. Nothing else can explain our
coming together tonight.
In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the
living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with
mercy, and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the
memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he
made me realize that He loved me, and just how much He still loves me.
Today, tonight, each of us can ask: What is my Galilee?  I need to
remember and to return there.  Where is my Galilee?  Do I remember it?
Have I forgotten it?  Seek and you will find it! The Lord is waiting for
you there. Have I gone off on roads and paths that made me forget it?
Lord, help me: remind me what my Galilee is; for you know that I want
to return there to encounter you and to let myself once again be
embraced by your mercy and the fullness of life with which you will gift
me.
“Do not be afraid, do not fear, return to Galilee!”
The Gospel is very clear: we need to go back there, to see Jesus risen,
and to become witnesses of his resurrection.  This is not to go back in
time; it is not a kind of nostalgia trip.

Rather, It is returning to the blush of our first love, in order to receive
anew the fire, which Jesus has kindled in each of us and in the world,
and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.
Go back to Galilee, to your Galilee without fear!
“O Galilee of the Gentiles”!  Horizon of the Risen Lord, horizon of the
community of faith; intense desire of encounter…
Brothers and sisters, let us be on our way! Let us return to our Galilee,
to be touched again by the fire of His love, to be bathed in the water his
mercy, and to be about the task of bearing joyful witness to that love
and mercy to all we encounter along the way.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
Easter Vigil, 2020