Today is the most important day in Christendom.
For those of us who believe, it is the day of proof. The day when Jesus took His life back and rose from the dead. A day so incredible, so amazing and truly, unbelievable, unless they had seen it for themselves, they all would have been like Thomas, and demanded physical proof.
His death had been so grisly! He had been bled, as is necessary for the Passover Lamb, by a spear thrust deep into His side.. No blood remained in a body so beaten, so crushed, so destroyed by Roman scourging and pinned to the cross for all the world to see, like an insect. How is it possible that that beaten bloodied corpse could once again hold life?
I often meditate on those involved - we have heard the story so many times, it loses it's ability to stun or shock us, when it should actually shake us to the core.
This year, I find myself pondering Peter's perspective.
Peter is the "everyman" who blunders and blesses his way thru the gospels, saint and sinner and bumblingly lovable - don't you just know he was a hugger? Grabbing his brothers in big bear hugs and laughing loud and deep in his chest?
And trying so very hard to be good.
And failing so miserably.
His first impulse is always to go for it. To walk on water - to actually do it! - and then sink (But hey! Remember he is the only one with enough courage to even try!) And if washing his feet was good, Lord wash all of me! And even if the others all betray You, I never will. Never! Even if I die with You!
I believe that, in preparation for His betrayal and death, His Father showed Him the details - Judas and his kiss of death, Peter and his 3 times of denial - the last with cursing to verify his lie.
So when He tried to warn them all that they would deny Him and Peter proclaimed his loyalty, thinking himself above the others in strength and love - Jesus told him how utterly he would fail. And Peter, left open-mouthed in disbelief, had no comeback to that.
And then it happened.
Peter was carrying a sword that night - no doubt seeing himself guarding Jesus and slaying one and all to protect Him.
And once again, failing.
Instead of striking a blow fast and true and everyone drawing back in horror of the strong man, the adrenaline surging thru him made the stroke flail instead, and chopped off the ear of the poor high priest's servant.
And, in front of everybody, Jesus tells him he's missed the whole point - again - and telling him that those who live by the sword die by the sword, as He healed the man's ear.
Then he follows - Luke tells us "from a distance" - and slips into the courtyard of the high priest, hoping to blend in. He warms himself at the fire and the denials begin. He blusters out the first one - and then the second one comes because a servant girl recognizes the Galilean accent - so to make the third one really establish his innocence, he adds curses to it. As he is speaking, he looks up - and Luke tells us that at that moment, Jesus turns around and looks at Peter.
How that look must have burned itself into his memory!
He really did love Jesus. He really had intended to stick up for Him and protect Him and die with Him - and can't quite figure out how he ended up cursing instead. And he remembers that Jesus told him this would happen - and it pierces through to the very core of Peter's heart - Luke says "...and going out, he wept bitterly."
What was the difference between Peter and Judas? Both publicly betrayed Him. Both would have given anything to undo what they had done.
One despaired, one repented. One heart was mercenary and operated on a far different level - when he messed up, he gave up. One bumbled a bit, but he tried - and when he failed, he tried again. Of the two, I think Judas used Jesus for what he could get - money, the prestige of hanging with the prophet, and hopefully a position in His government when He took over. It is after Judas is rebuked publicly for chastising Mary for anointing Jesus for His death that the betrayal comes. Jesus said He would die - and Judas figured His ruling the empire was pretty much a wash.
So, he got a last little bit of money, and betrayed Him.
And then comes Easter morn.
The sky is just starting to brighten.
His disciples have been hiding out in the upper room, the last place they were all together before the crucifixion. They are heartbroken and wary, not knowing if the high priest is going to come after them, too. They are still in that stunned state of shock that comes when someone dies suddenly, wondering how this could have happened? How? And the question the evil one whispers in the ear of everyone whose heart was broken by senseless loss: "Where was God?" They knew He was Who He said He was. They knew it! Deep down in their souls they believed. He couldn't have lied. He just couldn't have - not that Man. Maybe someone else, but not Him.
And among them, Peter grieved. They all knew he had denied Him. Perhaps they were trying to console him, telling him to remember that Jesus had prayed for him, that Jesus wasn't surprised by what happened. We all ran away, Peter. It happened the way Jesus said it would. You're no worse off than any of us.
And into this room full of stupefying grief and loss comes Mary Magdalene, weeping, crying out that someone stole His body, the tomb is empty, we went to prepare Him properly for burial and the stone was rolled away!
John and Peter looked at each other.
Then they both took off running.
In my mind's eye, I can see it: a new day just beginning. The birds starting to chirp and move about. The air cool against their skin, rustling in the trees in short bursts. Hardly anyone else is stirring. All they hear is the sound of their sandalled feet, hitting the cobblestone streets as they run, the air rushing around them as they sprint for the tomb.
John, the younger man, reaches the tomb first. He looks in, but hangs back for Peter.
John sees the linen He was in, still wrapped up, but no body in them. They lie empty, like a cocoon - not strewn around the room as they would have been if the body had been stolen. They lie where His body rose up through them, leaving them behind!
The tomb wasn't open because someone stole Him. The tomb was open so they could look in and See!
Peter arrives then, rushing into the tomb. He stands there, sides heaving, brow scrunched up, trying to figure it out.
He looks at John.
John looks at him.
And slowly he begins to understand.
I can only imagine the joy that lights their eyes - and the rest of the women begin to clamor that two angels were there, telling them that He is risen, as He said! And Mark adds, the angels said to tell the disciples "...and Peter" that He goes before them to Galilee.
How tender is the One Who died for us!
Those two words must have pierced Peter with hope and joy. How he must have said them, over and over to himself..
He was forgiven!
Jesus still accepted him! He wasn't to be an outcast among those who followed Him - Jesus still included him, still wanted him to come to Galilee with the others.
And all the pieces start to fit.
All the prophecies, all the stuff Jesus kept trying to tell them. That Messiah wasn't only an earthly King - he was the Passover Lamb. They remembered John the Baptist - how he'd said "Behold the Lamb of God - Who takes away the sin of the whole world" - it fits, it all fits!
I cannot imagine, as much as I try, the joy that would come with the realization. These were men who'd been taught the Torah from the moment of birth - their mothers whispering the she'ma over and over into their ears:: "Hear O Israel, the LORD God, He is One."
And they now knew He was the One - it was all true.
AND THEY HAD LIVED IT!
He had risen, as He said!
Let that drum into your heart! Let it throb in your soul! Let the reality begin to sink in deep - as new and fresh as that first Easter morning:
HE IS RISEN, AS HE SAID!!