Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Transformation Through Easter

Easter doesn’t last forever.  Resurrection does, but the events we commemorate in the observances of the Easter season unfold in a period of fifty days.  That’s why the word “Easter,” questionable etymology and all, is useful.  It delineates the time when the risen Christ appears, instructs and then commissions the band of disciples, who become his apostles to the world.

The Great Fifty Days, as they are traditionally known, are filled with varied and sometimes confusing encounters that change the followers of Jesus from quite ordinary and dispirited men and women lost in grief and regret into a force that literally changes the world in their lifetime.

Perhaps no one personifies that change more than Peter.  The first to name Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, the first with insights into the nature of the life to which they are all being called, it is also Peter who denies even knowing Jesus on the night of his trial.  But then Peter is singled out, forgiven and commissioned by Christ as the Fifty Days near their end.  Can we see the change that comes upon them all by looking through Peter’s eyes?

Peter At Cockcrow
John 18:15-27

The sound of that rooster!  I believe it will echo in my mind until I die.  Daylight has not yet come, and already my own words have burned a scar in my soul.

At table I was filled with bravado.  “Even if they all become deserters I will never desert you...Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

And he said, not unkindly, “Peter, I tell you this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

A mere hour later, in the garden, he asked three of us to keep vigil while he prayed, and three times we all fell sound asleep.

Then came the arrest, and somehow I was bold again.  I drew my sword, and struck the High Priest's servant before he restrained me.  Even so, I followed as they took him to the palace of Caiaphas, where the Council waited.  I alone entered the courtyard, looking for a chance to do something, anything; to prevent what was to come...That is, until they started asking questions.

A servant-girl came over to me.  “You also were with Jesus the Galilean,” she said.

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

Another servant remarked to a group of bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I do not know the man.”

A little later one of those gathered came over to me, “Certainly you are also one of them.  Your Galilean accent betrays you.”

“By the Lord our God, I do not know the man!”

At that instant the cock crowed.

I bolted from the courtyard.  My shame couldn't have been more complete if I'd handed him over myself.  And now, hidden for fear of discovery, I see myself for the impetuous, boastful, cowardly fraud I am.

Deep inside I know what the morning will bring, and to the very depths of my being I know I have neither the wits nor the courage to do anything about it.

Peter Is Charged
John 21:1-19

Though the mist hung over the lake that dawn, at John’s word I knew Him instantly.  The dash for shore, the fish grilled on the beach, all a blur of movement and sensation.

Then, after we ate, He drew me aside and we were alone for the first time since His rising.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”  The words cut deep, and I saw torchlight and chaos.  “Yes, Lord, you know I do.”

“Feed my lambs.”

We walked a little further, and He faced me squarely: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  My mind spun, and I was in the midst of a crowd huddling for warmth around a charcoal fire.  “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

“Tend my sheep.”

By the water’s edge, He fixed me with a gaze that took in the whole world: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  My spirit went blank, and in the depths of my soul a rooster crowed.  “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

“Feed my sheep.”

In that moment I was set free.  Three denials betrayed the shallowness of my early love.  Three questions, searing in their simplicity, undid the betrayal and this time my love held firm.  I have never lost the wonder that H chose me, impulsive and vacillating, to care for our little band, and the wonder is multiplied that by His grace and love alone I have fulfilled the charge.

Howard MacMullen
© May, 2012

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