Monday, March 28, 2016

Broken Rocks- The Resurrection from Peter's Perspective

Easter 2016
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
1On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

It was quiet, all that Sabbath. Simon, the one everyone now called Peter, sat quietly by himself, his whole life unmoored and untethered. Everything he had thought he knew was now called into question- not only by the death of his teacher, his dearest mentor and friend, but by the events of the previous days, his own actions and inactions. Simon picked up a rock and turned it over in his hands, feeling the smoothness, the definition of each line, the fissures where the rock would break if pushed too far.

Turning the stone over and over in his hands, he thought again about the day that he had acquired his nickname. “From now on, you will be called Peter, which means rock.” Later on, Jesus would declare, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Simon Peter remembered the glow of pride that had filled him as he had heard those words. “So much for that foundation,” he thought, as the memory of a different conversation filled his mind. “Surely, you know this man. Surely you are one of them. Surely you are a disciple of this man Jesus.” And his own replies, three times, “I do not know him. I am not one of them. Not I. I swear to you, I do not know the man.” As Jesus had predicted, he had rejected and denied his teacher and friend.

“I have considered myself the most faithful disciple, but I am no better than anyone else.” Despair seized Simon Peter, and the fissures of his soul broke open, and he wept bitterly.

The days since had passed like a blur. He could scarcely believe all that had happened- the farce of a trial, the torture of his gentle and loving teacher, the way Jesus had suffered and how nothing had stopped the unthinkable from happening. Jesus died like any other human being. It seemed impossible. How could the man who had healed so many, performed so many miracles, power that came from God- how could he have died? He had kept expecting that at any moment, something would happen, someone would come to intercede, to interrupt this awful chain of events, to give some sort of reprieve to Jesus, but instead, unbelievably, it had all proceeded as if Jesus were a common criminal, not a man who had fed thousands with just a few loaves and fishes or who knew how to quell a storm with a word.

That night, Simon Peter tossed and turned, drifting in and out of a troubled sleep as he relived the terrible events since Thursday. If only he had not fallen asleep in the garden. If he had known those would be his last moments with Jesus, he would have stayed awake. Oh, to have those moments back and to do it over again.

Jolted from sleep by the sound of a door closing, Simon Peter awoke in the early morning hours. Knowing there would be no getting back to sleep, he quietly began his day, noticing that the women had left, taking with them their baskets filled with spices and jars of oils. They had gone to the tomb, gone to perform that final service for their beloved rabbi, to care for him one last time. Simon Peter took a sip of water and lay back down, his head aching.

It couldn’t have been even a half-hour later when the sound of approaching footsteps alerted the whole household. As if shaken by an earthquake, every person in the room tensed, coming fully awake, their eyes trained on the door. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Simon Peter waited for the knock that would signal the beginning of the end. This was it, he was sure, the sounds of Roman soldiers coming to arrest the disciples. “No less than I deserve,” thought Simon Peter, remembering how he had abandoned Jesus. In some ways, it was a relief.

Just at that moment, the door swung open, revealing not the clean-shaven faces of foreign warriors, but instead the familiar features of friends- first, Mary Magdalene, followed by Joanna, other women, and then, the oldest of the group, Mary, James’ mom. They were breathless, their eyes wide.
“What is it? Are they coming for us?” cried out Simon Peter’s brother Andrew.
Mary Magdalene, her chest heaving with exertion, answered, “No, but listen! The most incredible thing has happened. Jesus is alive, he is risen.” Silence hung in the air, then it was broken by gasps of disbelief. “What do you mean?” “There must be some mistake.” “What kind of a joke is this?” Men’s deep voices rumbled in question, but the women responded, affirming Mary Magdalene’s unbelievable tale. Debates broke out. After all, everyone knew Jesus had died, some had witnessed his final breath, others had seen his lifeless body sealed in a tomb. How could anyone believe that Jesus was alive?

Stunned, Simon Peter rocked to his feet. His heart pounding with fear and hope, he ran to the door, burst out onto the street, and raced to the tomb. Skidding to a halt and nearly falling to his knees, Peter took stock of the place where the body of Jesus had been lain to rest. The brisk morning air cooled his skin, clearing his headache. Craning his neck, Peter peered into the tomb, a shaft of light illuminating the empty ledge where Jesus’ body had lain. It was plain that no body was there now, only the linen wrappings remained. No one would take a body but leave the shroud; what would be the point?

Memories flooded his mind, flowing before his mind’s eye as if on a tide. He saw Lazarus, stepping out of the tomb, still wrapped in his shroud. If Jesus could overcome death then, surely death could not hold him bound and imprisoned in the tomb? Seeing the stone that had so recently sealed the tomb now lying useless next to the opening, Simon Peter remembered another day. Standing with Jesus and the other disciples, looking at the temple, Jesus had said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Although Jesus had been speaking about the destruction of the temple on that day, Simon Peter realized that Jesus’ words could have just as easily apply to these stones here, only now, he could see that this was good news. With great power, God had thrown down this great stone, and Jesus was on the loose, alive. Wonder overtook Simon Peter, filling the cracks in his heart, restoring his faith. Lethargy drained away as he was overcome by amazement. Feeling an energy in his body such as he hadn’t felt since he was a kid, Peter took off at a run, ready to strengthen the faith of his brothers.
As he ran, a song from his childhood welled up within him, its beat set to the rhythm of his pace:
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. 
The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 

And with his whole being, Simon Peter sang an alleluia. For Christ was risen, indeed. And something new was just beginning. 

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