David A. Davis
April 16, 2017
A pastor, a rabbi, and a chaplain went into a bar for coffee. Actually, it was a coffee place. The established meeting place was Small Word Coffee. The pastor and the rabbi entered Small World through the secret back entrance just off Palmer Square. They waited for the chaplain to arrive. The top of the hour passed. Then five minutes. Ten minutes. No chaplain. At that point both phones, the rabbi’s and the pastor’s, buzzed with a text. It was from the chaplain. “Weren’t we supposed to meet for coffee at 10?” “Yes,” the pastor typed, “we’re here. Where are you?” “At Small World” came the response. The rabbi looked around. Then came the next text. “Small World, Nassau Street.” The pastor and rabbi were in Small World, Witherspoon Street. The pastor texted, “Give us a few minutes. Wait for us. We’ll meet you there.” I knew — we all knew — there were two places, two Small Worlds, in town. It was just that no one ever thought to ask.
The disciples never make it to the empty tomb in Matthew’s gospel. It’s Mary and the other Mary that had the Easter morning experience: the earthquake, the angel rolling back the stone, the angel telling them not to be afraid, the angel telling them Jesus was not there but had been raised, the angel telling them Jesus was going ahead to Galilee, the two women leaving the tomb quickly in fear and great joy, and the risen Jesus meeting the women along the road… suddenly. As Matthew tells it, “Suddenly, Jesus met them and said ‘Greetings!’ And the women came to Jesus, took hold of Jesus’ 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.’”
In John’s Gospel, Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved took off and ran to the tomb. Jesus wasn’t there. Here in Matthew, if they took off racing, Jesus wouldn’t have been there either. The women heard it twice, from the angel and from the risen Jesus, that he was going to Galilee. They wouldn’t see him until Galilee. They were going have to meet him there, somewhere else, somewhere up the road, in Galilee. Christianity’s first preachers, Mary and the other Mary, the two female preachers? They told the eleven that Christ had risen! (He is risen indeed!) But he’s not here. He’s in Galilee. He’s in Galilee. We’ll meet him there.
My friend Scott Hoezee at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids points out the awkward switch of location. Christ is risen! He’s just not here. Galilee is about 80 miles north of Jerusalem, and that’s as a crow flies. It’s easily 90 to 100 by pathway and roads. I know it’s a good few hours by bus. Scott suggests that walking at a good clip, accounting for elevation changes, eating, resting, and sleeping, it would have easily taken them two to three days to get to that meeting. I figure that means the disciples would not have seen the risen Jesus until long about Wednesday. In John, it’s evening on that day, the first day of the week, when they get to see Jesus in the Upper Room. In Luke, the two walking along the Emmaus Road, they see Jesus in the breaking and sharing of bread. It was later that same day. In Mark, well, in the shorter ending of Mark, no one sees the risen Christ. Here in Matthew, if you define the New Testament experience of Easter as an encounter with the risen Christ, well, then yeah, for the disciples, Easter comes long about Wednesday! And nowhere near Jerusalem. Who would have thought to ask?
Of course, the Bible doesn’t say that it was Wednesday. “Now the eleven went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed him,” Matthew writes. “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” That’s when Matthew’s Jesus gives the Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.” And that’s it. That’s the end. That’s the end to Matthew’s gospel. No Upper Room. No Emmaus Road. No breakfast on the beach. No “do you love me, do you love me, do you love me” with Peter. Just the trek up to Galilee. The eleven finally seeing Jesus. Worship. Doubt. Some doubted (which means more than one and there were only eleven) and the Great Commission. The risen Jesus gives the Great Commission to the eleven who aren’t even close to 100% on board. And it all happened long about Wednesday.
It doesn’t say which mountain in Galilee. It could have been the same one that Jesus climbed when the devil took him up to show him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” It could have been the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus took Peter, James, and John and then Elijah and Moses showed up too. But it must have been the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached the sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. The risen Christ tells the eleven to teach them “to obey everything that I have commanded you.” It just makes sense that they would been there, at the teaching mountain. And here’s where one of the disciples, maybe one of the doubters, maybe not, but one of them had to ask. Pulling out a fresh notebook, and something to write with, after Jesus said, “Everything, teach them everything.” That’s when one of the disciples said, “Now Jesus, could you tell us again? Tell us again! Tell us again, Jesus!”
Like the student who sits down in the precept with the physics professor still trying to grasp the mind-blowing part of the lecture the day before: “Could you tell us that again?” Like the grandchildren who never tires of the absolute awe in her heart when her WWII veteran grandfather tells stories about those days in the war. Sometime after dinner today, she says, “Papa, tell us again?” Like the person in the office who has to fill in for the presentation because the boss is being called away; the pressure’s on to know it all and to get it right. “Now, before you go, tell me one more time.” Like the child at bedtime who can recite every word of the bedtime story but asks for it every time, and the parent will never say no. “Tell it again.” “Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon.”
Maybe like all of those and so much more; the eleven, the risen Christ, and his body of work that is the kingdom of God. His resurrection shines now through all his teaching, every healing, every miracle, every touch. Letting your light shine, turning the other cheek, laying aside your worries, doing unto others, the exhortation comes with access to resurrection power, death-stomping hope, and a life-giving, life-sustaining, life-creating hope. Trusting in God, seeking first the kingdom of God, shouting hosanna, save us, it’s all undergirded, founded on, nudged along by his resurrection spirit. Losing your life in order to save it, knowing that the last will be first, taking up your cross and following Jesus; only and because of the strength of Christ himself, the Risen Victorious Christ. It was Paul who wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It was the risen Christ who said, “I am with you always.” Tell us again and again and again, Jesus!
Tony Campolo has a famous sermon known by the title “It’s Friday But Sunday’s Coming.” In the sermon he actually tells of his pastor preaching a “knock it out of the park” sermon all riffing on the phrase that “it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.” It’s Good Friday but Resurrection Sunday is coming. We live in a Good Friday world but the Easter Victory is coming. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. You get the picture. Well, today is Sunday. Easter Sunday. Christ is risen! But Wednesday’s coming. It’s one thing to shout “Christ is risen” today. But what about Wednesday.
Because long about Wednesday is when another trip to an open grave in the cemetery comes. Long about Wednesday is when that brutal meeting at work happens and holding a grudge is the least you can do. Wednesday is when rest and peace and quiet seem a long way off. Wednesday is when no one is talking to each other at the dinner table. Wednesday is when forgiveness is really hard. Wednesday is when time seems to stand still, and loneliness is brutal, and even a sunny day doesn’t help lighten the load, lighten the mood, lighten the journey. Long about Wednesday is when the headlines tell of another terror strike, or the size of a bomb being praised, or the nations escalating talk of missiles and retaliation and war. When nasty graffiti is sprayed on the synagogue wall, when a racist incident goes viral on social media, when an elected official says something hateful. That feels like a Wednesday. A Wednesday is the next doctor’s visit, or just another day to visit your dad long since lost to dementia, or the day when all those blasted acceptances and rejections from schools comes out, or the day after graduation and no job in sight.
It’s a joy-filled, beautiful Easter Sunday with brass and a full church and familiar hymns and a resurrection acclamation. Christ is risen! I don’t know about you, but I hope the risen Christ is waiting for me long about Wednesday. I’m so thankful to rejoice and celebrate with you this Easter Sunday morning. But I want to see Jesus on Wednesday. His presence. His strength. His death-stomping, sea-calming resurrection power. That spirit of his that lifts me. That teaching of his that inspires me. That grace of his that claims me. That kingdom of his that welcomes me. That love of his that will not let me go. I’m going need it on Wednesday. When the nations rage, when the leaders of the world rattle their sabers, and when death just never goes away, and when it’s just harder to love, and hope is harder to find, and it’s whole lot easier to just worry about me, and my old sinful self is winning the day. Wait for me then. Wait for me there. Meet me there Jesus. Oh, uh, guess what day it is! What day is it? It’s Wednesday, Jesus.
Jesus Christ and his resurrection power. It is so much more, so much bigger, so much better than one Easter Sunday. The first preachers, they said Christ is risen. But he’s not here. He’s in Galilee. We’re going meet him there. He’s waiting for us there. He’s there.
Christ is risen.
© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
Contact the church to obtain reprint permission.