We All Need a Lift

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Mark 16:7 NRSV

                         We have all been there before at some point.  Even if it has been quite some time, we can relate to the feelings, the hurt, even the dejection.  It can be easy to place the blame on the one(s) who have done us wrong, failed to be present, or overlooked an important/difficult time for us.  However, when the roles are reversed, the story changes considerably.  We attempt to justify ourselves, our actions, or our inactivity.  But…let us just be honest for a moment.  We all get it wrong from time to time.  We disappoint ourselves.  We disappoint others.  And, yes, we even disappoint God.  Whether we do something on purpose with ill-intent or fail to come through when needed the most, we falter and, to borrow from the realm sports, “we fumble the ball.”  We miss the mark.  We fail to follow through on our intentions.

                         I cannot help but wonder if this is how Peter felt in the hours and days which followed his denial of Christ.  The very disciple who spoke so boldly in opposition to Jesus’ insistence that his closest followers would soon scatter had been forced to “eat his own words.”  How embarrassing!  The fisherman turned disciple, the one who walked briefly upon the water and correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, became nervous, tongue-tied, and weak at Jesus’ darkest moment.  It is hardly the kind of experience worth remembering, but, at the same time, it is next to impossible to forget.  Pure and simple, Jesus had been right all along: one would betray, another would deny, and all would desert him.  Failure at its best (or perhaps I should say “worst”).

                         When we last read of Peter prior to the Post-Resurrection accounts, he had disappeared into the loneliness of night and there wept like a child.  Reminded of Jesus’ words, haunted by the sound of crowing, and visualizing the carrying away of his friend, Peter had much to ponder.  It was too little too late to reverse his behavior.  Even if he ran to the religious officials, it would not help Jesus’ case.  What was Peter to do?  He could have wallowed in self-pity.  He could have returned full-time to his occupation of fishing (John’s Gospel does state he desired to go fishing).  Maybe, he could have “traveled off into the sunset” in order to escape his failure and start a new life elsewhere.  We can speculate about the contents of Peter’s heart, but I believe it is safe to say he was broken to the core.

                          Wherever Peter was and whatever he was up to, it is evident from the Gospels that he was not present when the women went to the tomb.  They had waited until the conclusion of the Sabbath, made ready the spices for the embalming of Jesus’ body, and set off toward the garden tomb in order to offer their last respects.  It was a trek weighed heavily with emotion, uncertainty, and fear.  “Low in the grave he lay, Jesus (their) Savior.”  Death had overcome the one whom they perceived to be God’s Anointed One.  Evil had proven once more to have the upper hand.  Or…so they thought!  Little did they know what awaited them upon their arrival to Jesus’ resting place.  Much to their surprise, the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed on Friday afternoon did not carry about it the aura of death.  The stone had been moved away and the women were confronted not with a decaying corpse, but rather with a heavenly messenger who offered greetings and words of life.   Jesus’ body did not happen to be missing through the efforts of others, but rather had been filled once again with the breath of life and now traveled ahead of the women toward Galilee.

                         In one of my favorite verses from the Resurrection narrative, Mark 16:7 offers not only a charge to go and inform others of what the women had experienced, but to specifically “tell the disciples and Peter…” of this great news.  This is a tidbit which is often overlooked in the telling of the story.  The words were not generic and they were not in the form of a rebuke.  The angel could have said something like, “Tell those knuckleheads to get it together.  They ought to be ashamed of their behavior.”  But no…nothing along those lines.  The specificity of the charge captures a willingness on the part of Jesus to forgive not only in word, but also to continue the work of God’s Kingdom through the very one(s) who had faltered just days before.  A friend shared a picture with me recently which features an empty tomb and it has the caption “It is never over with Jesus.”  I think this is a helpful and healing reminder when we think about the Resurrection.  Not only did Jesus overcome death and the grave physically, but his response to a failed group of followers was and is one of love, reconciliation, and second chances.

                         I share this Scripture and illustration from the life of Peter and the disciples not only because Easter is quickly approaching, but also because I know how life can be.  We are all humans created in the image of God.  Often, we have the best of intentions.  We work hard to impress God and others.  We try really hard to do the right things.  We get “a leg up” in our spiritual growth.  But then…it happens.  We stumble.  We disobey.  We wander from the righteous standard which God has established before us.  We talk the good game, but fail to follow through with our deeds.  When such unfortunate moments occur in our lives, we get down on ourselves.  We become frustrated with others.  We attempt to write-off certain people and situations as being beyond the grasp of God’s redeeming love.  I wish to say to you and perhaps there are others around you who need to hear the same words: “It is never over with Jesus.”  When you are down and out.  When you feel as though you have wronged God too many times.  God still has grace sufficient enough to lift you up, clean you off, and get you ready for the next work of the Kingdom.  Thanks be unto God!!!

The Reverend Kelley Smart