Most of the people reading this will be fairly well acquainted with the road that brings us to this mark on the Church calendar. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday–> The plot of the chief priest–> The Last Supper and commandment of Love–> Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest–> The fleeing of the disciples and Peter’s denials–> Christ’s torture and humiliation at the hands of religious and governmental officials–> Jesus’ feeling that he had been abandoned even by his Father and his ultimate death upon a cross.
We know the story.
And we get to Easter and we talk about how it gives the world hope and how even the last enemy that is death has been defeated and what that means to a troubled and flawed creation.
But then I start to wonder about the other enemies; the ones that aren’t death. What about the enemies that guilt and pride and shame. And my attention turns from the global impact of the resurrection to the individual impact. My attention turns to Peter.
Imagine what it must have been like for Peter right before the empty tomb was discovered. Here was a man whose entire life was brought high and then dashed upon the rocks, broken and mangled. He was a follower of a man he believed would save his people only to watch that man be struck and beaten and killed. He was a man who had great pride in himself and his strength but when the time came, he fled to save his own butt. He was a deeply religious man who would not only deny knowing Christ, he cursed out the people accusing him of it. I imagine the guilt Peter laid on his own shoulders was massive and almost unbearable. So he went to do the only thing he knew he was really good at; he went fishing. And he even failed at that.
Now picture the Peter who has just realized that his leader, his Messiah, his God was alive and cooking them breakfast. I want to think that this would fill Peter with happiness but I don’t think it did.
In Paradise Lost, Milton wrote “Abashed the Devil stood and felt how awful goodness is, and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely; saw, and pined His loss.”
I think this is what it was like for the fisherman that day. Abashed Peter stood and felt how awful goodness is. What guilt and shame he must have piled on his back not in spite of being near the risen Lord but because of it. When we feel our lowest, the last thing we want is to be confronted with good. How could Peter ever atone to this great King for his sins, for his mistakes, for his betrayal. At least Judas had the courage to hang himself.
And so Jesus calls his disciple over to him to sit. And I’m sure Peter went with a heart full of trepidation and sorrow, the likes of which most of us can’t even imagine. And he is asked a question…”Peter, do you love me?” Yes, he says, probably after trying to collect himself. “Peter, do you love me?” Yeah, of course I do, says the one who fled. “Peter, do you love me?” Dang it, you know that I do, says the denier. “Then feed my sheep”.
And though Easter might have changed the world a little bit earlier, it is right here that Easter changes Peter. Peter, who is holding onto all his self-loathing and shame and guilt, is told that Christ, in loving each other, has taken all that away and has work for Peter to do. And though the rest of the world knew redemption when the stone was rolled away, it is here that Peter knows redemption and it has nothing to do with his failings or his righteousness. It has everything to do with who he is to God.
Easter changed the world but it also changed a person. As with Peter, the resurrection of Christ changes each of us, it changes His church. And as it changes his church, it changes the world. In large and small ways.
That is Easter.