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Easter Vigil Mass Homily: Galilee

Updated: May 1, 2023

The readings for this Mass can be found: [HERE]

What is up with Galilee? It’s mentioned twice in our gospel passage: both by the angel and by our Resurrected Lord himself. Why must the disciples go to Galilee in order to see Jesus?

Perhaps it’s because that was the place of their original encounter with him. That’s where their relationship with Jesus began and flourished.

They had met him in the context of ordinary life. They never had to sail towards a distant country, ascend a high mountain, or overcome any great obstacle in order to encounter him. He was the one to find them and summon them to be his disciples. Afterwards, they followed him for three years. They lived with him, ate with him, journeyed with him. They listened to his teachings and saw his actions. By following him, they learned more about themselves too. Their newfound identity as his disciples had been sculpted in Galilee, day after day. They casted out demons, cured the sick, raised the dead, and proclaimed the kingdom of God. That’s who they were: disciples of Jesus who did his works.

But that identity had been shattered in Jerusalem. Their Lord was taken from them and executed very abruptly, all within the space of twenty-four hours after the Last Supper. And very core of who they had been was crushed. The world as they knew it fell from beneath them. It was now a hostile world filled with strangers.

“Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,” said the Lord, “and there they will see me.”

In returning to Galilee, the disciples were called to begin again; perhaps to fall in love again. The first time, discipleship had come somewhat naturally, like a toddler learning to walk. They had been swept up in a growing popular movement surrounding Jesus. But now, being a disciple of Jesus the Crucified… that takes something more intentional.

Like someone undergoing physical therapy who learns how to stand and walk again, the disciples too had to start all over, one step at a time. They were invited to retrace their steps and in that effort rediscover themselves.

There’s a beautiful scene we hear about later in the Easter season after the disciples return to Galilee. Out of the blue, Peter simply announces to the apostles: “I’m going fishing,” and the others follow along. More of that was needed.

The terrifying and utterly shocking horror of having their Lord taken from them and executed was an unshakable reality. Perhaps by remembering Jesus as they reacclimated to Galilee, they could, at the very least, take one step back from the brink of total despair and brokenness.

But in Galilee, they would do more than merely remember Jesus. They would actually see him again—in the flesh. They would see the only Jesus that exists: the Jesus who lives. Only the Jesus who is resurrected from the dead could also resurrect his body of disciples from a scattered group of disappointed cowards into a fearless band of witnesses, who would joyfully give their lives for the proclamation of the gospel. Only a real encounter with the risen Lord Jesus could overwrite the eviscerating memory of his death by crucifixion. Nothing else could have brought the disciples back from the brink of that total despair and confusion.

That happened in Galilee. In Galilee, they learned to accept the end of one form of relationship with Jesus (the kind that ends at an empty tomb), and enter into a new one with him, no longer constrained even by death itself.

You know, God could have saved us in any way—without going through all this trouble. [Snap finger] Just like that. But it pleased God to work through human circumstance and bring everything full circle.

At the Fall, there was involved a man, a woman, an angel, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. In the redemption, we see them again: Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and Eve; angels appear at his birth and at his resurrection; and the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life make their appearance as the Cross.

Everything comes back full circle in God’s plan. And it must be so with the disciples. They must go back to Galilee for their own conversion after their betrayal of Jesus. That conversion and redemption will happen in dialogue with the Resurrected Jesus Christ.

Easter is our reminder that we too must go back to our version of Galilee in order to encounter the Risen Lord Jesus. We’ve all betrayed our Lord at some point and in some way, particularly through our relationships. As with the disciples, our relationships are at the heart of our identity. Ruptures in our relationships can lead to a loss to our sense of self.

Beginning again means going back to that place of original encounter. When we do so, we do more than revisit a memory. In faith, we trust that Jesus is there with us in the present moment as we face past brokenness. And we are rediscovered by him, just as he gathered his disciples again in Galilee. And in that rediscovery, our identity is recreated; and we move forward again, stronger than we were before.

The disciples saw their Lord in Galilee, and they all eventually traveled far beyond that tiny place. They journeyed to every corner of the world to proclaim the gospel. Likewise, our rebirth will lead us far beyond the tiny and constrained place of our present circumstance, and we’ll move forward unbound to God knows where; but Jesus will be with us, until the end of the age. May God bless you.

Les Saintes femmes au tombeau, by Irma Martin, c. 1843, oil on canvas, [Public Domain]


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