Easter Sunday 2015 The Rev. Austin K. Rios St. Paul’s Within the Walls April 5, 2015 In the garden of Gethsemane, a thin stretch of land upon the western slope of the Mount of Olives, there is a remarkable grove of olive trees.Surrounded by a wrought iron fence, the ancient trees stand, their tops stretched toward the sky and their gaze leveled clearly across the Kidron Valley to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem.Below, in the deepest part of the valley are row upon row of tombs…Jewish tombs, Muslim tombs, Christian tombs…all whitewashed, cold reminders of the universal reality of human finitude. The olive trees in Gethsemane are gnarled and thick due to years spent confronting the seasons of the region, and their wood is a testament to generations of choosing to grow and live regardless of which way the wind blows, or how much rain falls, or whether the sun shines brightly or dimly.They are some of the oldest trees in the world.
In fact, three of them date back 900 years to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the crusaders sought control of Jerusalem and invested in building and rebuilding the city.
As I put my hand on a branch that had stretched beyond the wrought iron, I imagined running back over all those years that had passed, and I had a sense of my own smallness in the face of such greatness.
But what really took hold of my soul and set me upon a path of awe and reverence was learning that the roots of these trees were even older than the trees.
In fact, the DNA of those trees is a common one, which means that they probably were planted from an even older specimen, one whose roots might have been sunk into the mount of Olives from the time when the Galilean man came to the garden of Gethsemane to pray one last time before facing the darkness of the cross, the Roman Empire, and all the spiritual forces of evil that opposed the coming of the kingdom of God.
An olive tree may be cut down and even burned, but as long as the root exists, new life can begin once more.
What had died can indeed be reborn, and serve as a witness to the unstoppable power of resurrection even in the midst of the darkest of valleys.
We gather this Easter Sunday to proclaim the unimaginable, that the same Jesus who was betrayed, beaten and executed just two days ago has been raised.
And according to Mark’s version of the good news, Jesus has already returned to Galilee, where he promised to meet the disciples…the place where the roots of his resurrection were strongest.
All through the Gospel of Mark, as we have witnessed each Sunday in our readings, Jesus has been proclaiming God’s kingdom and inviting the world to be part of the way.
He has faced opposition, from demons, the religious authorities, the Roman Empire, and at the end, even his closest disciples.
The resurrection not only vindicates that God’s kingdom is indeed supreme, and more powerful than the false and idolatrous reigns of this world, but it also serves as the final act in a whole narrative of resurrection that forms the Gospel.
Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee and then heals Peter’s mother in law, telling her to “be raised” literally the same word that is used by the young man at the tomb to describe Jesus’ resurrection.
He told the paralytic to “get up” and Jarius’ daughter to “be raised”…the same word used to describe his own resurrection.
Those who receive healing and new life at the hands of Jesus have a choice to make…follow the way that leads to life…the way that Jesus demonstrates through love and service…or fall back into the delusion that the opposing forces’ claims to power, and their means of achieving it, are acceptable.
It is a choice that we are asked to make as well, in the shadow of the empty tomb.
Will we follow the way and “be raised” along with Christ, or will we settle for an inferior and unsatisfying reign that hands out crosses when threatened, and is more acquainted with death than with life?
Will we make our way back to Galilee, to the heart of community and active ministry, where water turns into wine, where loaves and fishes are found in abundance, and where together we will meet the risen Lord?
Make no mistake, this is the central question that we are asked to answer with the testament of our lives.
Every day our world spends billions of dollars investing in the tools of death and destruction…in ways that lead to humanity’s ruin and division.
Time, money and energy get poured into feeding the hungry mouths of media to produce a narrative that will convince us that “products” are what will truly “raise us”, or affiliation with “this type of person or party.”
The world we live in is still littered with crosses, and the innocent fall prey to the powerful…cut down and thrown into the fire because of their country of birth or their family of origin.
In the midst of such a world, hope can seem far off, and our individual contributions just a drop in the ocean.
But today, the tomb stands empty…the olive trees have sprouted afresh from strong roots…and Jesus is waiting to meet us in Galilee.
Galilee is not just to be found in the hill region surrounding a lake in the north of Israel, it is found wherever people are being “raised up” from the darkness to the light.
Galilee is in our churches, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and at a base level, in our hearts.
Galilee is found anywhere the people of God follow the way that leads to life with all their heart, soul and mind…and the resurrected Jesus is in the midst of that…continuing to heal, to exorcise, and to infuse this world with truth just as he did around the sea of Galilee years before.
Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is about going to Galilee, and about helping Galilee grow in our world.
Action by action, word after word, person by person.
Today we tap into the root of our faith, namely that God’s kingdom can never be vanquished, and that “being raised” not “cast down” is our ultimate destiny.
Will you make a decision today to grow from this root, to go to Galilee, and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ wherever you go…letting the Holy Spirit overshadow your amazement and fear and empower you for the journey?
The world is awaiting your answer…the church is awaiting your answer…Jesus is awaiting to meet us there, in that place where there is no more dying, nor sorrow or crying, but the fullness of joy with all the saints.
Be raised dear people of God!
Grow in faith, with the tenacity of an olive tree and with the passion always in your sights!
Go tell the world that Jesus Christ is no longer in the tomb, but alive and waiting for us in Galilee just as he said!
Alleluia! Christ is risen!