Living beyond our crucifixions

Ron Rolheiser OMI
April 15, 2001

Every dream eventually gets crucified. How? By time, circumstance, jealousy, and that curious, perverse dictate, somehow innate within the order of things, that insures that there is always someone or something that cannot leave well enough alone, but, for reasons of its own, must hunt down and strike what is good. The good will always be envied, hated, pursued, smudged, killed. That's true even of dreams. Something there is that needs a crucifixion. Every body of Christ inevitably suffers the same fate as Jesus. There's no smooth ride for what's whole, good, true, or beautiful.

But that's only half the equation, the bad half. What's also true, what the resurrection teaches, is that, while nothing that is of God can avoid crucifixion, no body of Christ ever stays in the tomb for long either. God always rolls back the stone and, soon enough, new life bursts forth and we see why that original life had to be crucified. (“Wasn't it necessary that the Christ should so have to suffer and die?”) Resurrection follows crucifixion. Every crucified body will rise again.

But where do we meet the resurrection? Where does the resurrected Christ meet us?

Scripture is subtle, but clear. Where can we expect to meet the resurrected Christ after a crucifixion? The gospel tell us that, on the morning of the resurrection, the women–followers of Jesus, the midwives of hope, set out for the tomb of Jesus, carrying spices, intending to anoint and embalm a dead body. Well–intentioned, but misguided, what they find is not a dead body, but by an empty tomb and an angel challenging them with these words: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Go instead into Galilee and you will find him there!”

Go instead into Galilee. What a curious expression! What is Galilee? Why go back? In the post–resurrection accounts in the gospels, Galilee is not simply a physical geography. It is, first of all, a place in the heart. Galilee is the dream, the road of discipleship that they had once walked with Jesus, and that place and time when their hearts had most burned with hope and enthusiasm. And now, just when they feel that this all is dead, that their faith is only fantasy, they are told to go back to the place where it all began: “Go back to Galilee. He will meet you there!”

And they do go back, to Galilee, to that special place in their hearts, to the dream, to their discipleship. Sure enough, Jesus appears to them there. He doesn't appear exactly as they remember him, nor as often as they would like him to, but he does appear as more than a ghost or a mere idea. The Christ that appears to them after the resurrection no longer fits their original expectation, but he is physical enough to eat fish in the presence, real enough to be touched as a human being, and powerful enough to change their lives forever.

Ultimately that is what the resurrection challenges us to do, to go back to Galilee, to return to the dream, hope, and discipleship that had once inflamed us but that now is crucified.

This too is what it means to “be on the road to Emmaus”. In Luke's gospel, we are told that on the day of the resurrection, two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem towards Emmaus, their faces downcast. That single line contains an entire spirituality: For Luke, Jerusalem, like Galilee for the other gospel writers, means the dream, the hope, the kingdom, the centre from which all is to begin and where ultimately all is to culminate. And the disciples are “walking away” from this, away from the dream, towards Emmaus. Emmaus was a Roman Spa — a Las Vegas and Monte Carlo of human consolation. Their dream has been crucified and the disciples, discouraged and hope-emptied, are walking away from it, towards human consolation, muttering: “But we had hoped!” They never get to Emmaus. Jesus appears to them on the road, reshapes their hope in the light of the crucifixion, and turns them back towards Jerusalem.

One of the essential messages of Easter is this: Whenever we are discouraged in our faith, whenever our hopes seem to be crucified, we need to go back to Galilee and Jerusalem, that is, to the dream, to the road of discipleship that we had embarked upon before everything went wrong. The temptation of course, whenever we feel this way, whenever the kingdom doesn't seen to work, is to abandon discipleship for human consolation, to set out instead for Emmaus, for the consolation of Las Vegas and Monte Carlo.

But, as we already know, we never quite get to Emmaus. In one guise or another, Christ always meets us on the road, burns holes in our hearts, explains the latest crucifixion to us, and sends us back — to Galilee and to our abandoned discipleship. Once there, it all makes sense again.