In his homily for the Easter Vigil this year, Pope Francis focused on a post-resurrection directive from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28:10). Galilee, of course, is where it all started for Jesus and his disciples. It’s where he began his ministry, and where he called his disciples to follow him. Galilee is where the disciples first encountered Jesus, where they were drawn to him.
In those first frightening and confusing hours after the resurrection—with the disciples disheartened by the events of Good Friday and dazed by sketchy reports that Jesus was alive, not sure what to believe—Jesus’ words to the women at the tomb amounted to more than simple consolation and the offer of wistful remembrance. Go back to Galilee, he was saying, where it all started, and where I called you. Reflect on our journey together, all I said and did, and consider it all in light of the past few days’ events. This is not the end, but the beginning. Do not be afraid. I am with you to the end.
It seems to me that Jesus is expressing and extending utmost compassion here. He knows his disciples are afraid, confused, questioning. Who wouldn’t be? He understands that they are lost and don’t know where to turn or what to do. So, he invites them back to Galilee to retrace their steps, so to speak—to reflect on everything that has happened in deeper fashion, to re-encounter him in the light of the resurrection, to rediscover him, and to be revitalized to carry on his mission.
Likewise, Jesus knows that each one of us—his followers today who inherited and strive to carry forward that very same mission of the first disciples—go through periods of fear, confusion, and struggle with belief. He knows that our earthly trials—whatever they may be—sometimes weigh us down and leave us feeling spiritually bereft or abandoned. Sometimes we just don’t understand and feel lost. Hope seems just beyond our grasp.
Jesus’ words to the women at the tomb, then, are every bit as important for us today. They show us the way forward by leading us back to where it all started for each one of us individually. As Pope Francis said in his homily (I posted it in full here on Easter Sunday): “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 fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and 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 the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay—a good, gentle joy.”
Pope Francis encourages us to ask ourselves: “What is my Galilee?” In other words, consider your own personal call as a Christian disciple, beloved by God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26). “Returning to Galilee,” the Pope says, “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.”
Returning to Galilee—which is something different for each one of us—means taking the time occasionally to rediscover who we are in the light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It means that in times of sorrow, confusion, and distress, we are to draw strength, wisdom, and courage from that moment when we were first called. We must remember (c.f. Deuteronomy 5:15; Luke 22:19; 2 Timothy 2:8), so that we may grow in faith and love as we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus in the hope of our own resurrection. Such memory gives the current moment and circumstances—no matter how trying they may be—meaning and purpose.
As the Pope said, “reviving the memory” of our own Galilee helps to sustain us in the present and to direct us for the future. It involves fanning the flames of the Spirit in our hearts—the very presence of God, who is always with us. And, as signified by the lighting of candles near the beginning of the Easter vigil, we are called to pass on that flame to others, to be the light of Christ in the darkness that surrounds and fills so many people in this world. We return to Galilee to rejuvenate ourselves spiritually, and then lead others there to hear Jesus’ call.
The passage from John’s Gospel that we heard Sunday (John 20:19-31) has a different take on Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. Instead of Galilee, they are all huddled together behind locked doors, presumably in Jerusalem, when Jesus suddenly “came and stood in their midst.” However, while the circumstances are different, the message is essentially the same. The disciples are in hiding—filled with fear and confusion. They do not understand (for good reason) the meaning of all that has occurred in the previous three days. They are lost.
Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Significantly, he shows them his wounds before repeating the greeting, and then continues: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” When Thomas, who was absent at the time, later refused to believe his companions’ account of all this unless he could see what they had seen, Jesus appears a second time, repeating his greeting of peace. Then he invites Thomas to touch his wounds, and says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Touch my wounds, Jesus is saying to us through his living Word in John’s Gospel—the wounds I share with you through your baptism. Your wounds—whatever they are—are my wounds. And see? They have no power over me—over you. I am alive, and am going to be with my Father, where you will be also. Remain in me, and you will have life. You will share in my resurrection. Do not be unbelieving, but believe (cf. Romans 6:4-5; 9-11).
The peace of Christ is revealed to us through his wounds—our wounds, which we share with him, whatever they may be. “Peace be with you,” he says, as he imparts his Holy Spirit upon us and commissions us: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Through his Spirit, Jesus is present in us. We are his presence in the world, and with his Spirit, we are to bring peace to other troubled, frightened, and confused hearts. In the light of the resurrection which we share with Christ, our own wounds have no more power over us than they did over him. Rather, we are empowered by him through those very wounds to not only overcome our own troubles but bring peace to others who are struggling with belief (see 2 Corinthians 1:4). The marks of death are transformed into signs of life.
This is our hope, and this is our mission as children of the resurrection, as “Easter people.”
A fruitful meditation this Easter season is to recall your Galilee, your initial call to follow Jesus. Place yourself in that room from John’s Gospel with the fearful, confused disciples. Acknowledge your fear, your struggles and lack of understanding. Allow Jesus to enter the room and then listen to his message of peace. While he shows you his wounds, recall your Galilee—your initial encounter with Jesus when you first experienced his presence in your life. When was it? Where? What happened? What did he say to your heart? What was your response? Reflect on your journey thus far. Where have you been? What has happened along the way? How was God’s presence manifested during that time?
And now—now what? What is your reaction as you look on the wounds of the resurrected Christ—which you share through baptism—and hear his words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”? What does the recollection of your own Galilee—your initial call by Jesus—mean in light of the transfigured wounds of the resurrected Christ now before you? Does this change your perspective at all? How?
Can you hear Jesus’ words to you—to all of us: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe”? How do you respond? Are you able to move forward from that locked, fear-filled room by going back in time to recall your Galilee? Does this recollection provide hope, strength, courage, joy, and newfound energy for the future? If so, to whom shall you pass the flame?
As you ponder all that, recall Jesus’ last words to his disciples (and to us) in the Gospel of Matthew: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).