The sermon for week April 08, 2012
EASTER, I Cor. 15:3-11, Mark 16:1-8
PART 1. Tell Peter
It may be a failing grade at school. It may be the end of a long and what was thought to be a lasting relationship. It may be your boss saying to you, this is your last day of work. It may be a desperate, willful, act of deceit, bullying, lying, cowardliness, that leaves you shaken and ashamed, not by how others have judged you but by how you have condemned yourself.
And such it was for Peter. He who thought he was so brave. He who was often the first to speak and act, lost all his nerve and bravery and became a coward, denying three times he even knew the Lord on the night Jesus was arrested. How could he ever face himself again? He was not the man he thought himself to be, the man who only a while earlier had told Jesus he would stand to the death for him.
What is it like to come to the end of an illusion? What is it like to have a dream shattered? Peter crept away, hiding from others but not able to hide from himself.
And Peter must have felt about himself and chances are we have sometimes felt about ourselves or we feel toward others - our family, our friend, our church, our country - a great disillusionment. We betrayed or feel betrayed. There is a diminishment of hope. Something or someone or certain someones we counted on disappoint us, betrayed us, failed us, or we are the ones that disappointed, betrayed, sinned, or failed. There are times when even God makes out list.
It is the experience of being at the end of our rope, whether in little daily irritates that exhaust all our energy or the crushing effects of an event beyond our ability to make right, but however it happens, ourselves the cause or others, the future is less than it was the day before. What was once a promise now becomes dread. What was once a dream now is filled with apprehension, and where once we were filled with plans, now when someone asks, what next, we cannot answer. There is no plan. There is no dream. And so it was for Peter.
I remember knowing such an outcome once as a student, in probably what seems a very trivial incident, but it certainly wasn’t for me. I was a sophomore in a Bible college, and I had just gotten back my mid term exam from a course on the Book of Revelation and there at the top was my grade, written in red, a giant ‘F’. I mean, I was in Bible college, hoping someday to be a minister, and I was failing Bible. It was half my grade, with the other half being the final. I slumped back to my dorm room, feeling like Peter. I had failed.
But, people, here is what Easter is about. The women go to the tomb in which Jesus was buried. The stone is rolled away and it is empty inside, except as we will read in the Gospel passage, there was a young man, presumably an angel, dressed in a white robe, and he says to the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” Then there are these words, “Now, go, tell his disciples and Peter.” No other disciple is named by name. No one else is called out, only Peter. Go tell Peter.
In the text we just read from I Corinthians, Paul summarized the early message saying, “...Christ died, ...he was buried,...he was raised on the third day,” and then there are these words, “he appeared to Cephas (a name for Peter) then to the twelve.” Before anyone else is mentioned, Peter is listed, individually named, as a disciple to whom Jesus appeared.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears, unknown, to two men walking along the Emmaus road and is later revealed to them as the Messiah, the risen Lord, in the breaking of bread. They run back to tell the disciples in Jerusalem and here is the message they report. “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon (again, another name for Peter)”
All this attention on the resurrection, and it is all focused on making sure that we know, it was Peter who Jesus first sought when he left the grave. He wanted to see Peter. He wanted to get to Peter. It was Peter who was in Jesus’ heart and for whom Jesus went in search.
Why, because this is the meaning of Easter. The risen, resurrected Lord goes in search of those who need him. The purpose of the resurrection isn’t first the writing of a creedal statement to which to be called Christian we must subscribe. The purpose of the resurrection isn’t first a test of your belief, to see if you can affirm the impossible as possible. The purpose of the resurrection is to first get to Peter and all those who languish at the end of their ropes and say, “I am with you. I will uphold you.” The purpose of the resurrection is first so that all of us, in all circumstances, might know, “God is with us.”
Where is the risen Lord, the Christ from the grave? He is with that boy lying on his bed in the dorm room, holding a mid term graded ‘F.’ He is with the struggle of that couple trying to determine whether to stay together or not. He is at the door inside your soul that you have locked for fear of ever being hurt or rejected again, or the fear of ever trying again.
And why does he come? Let me read you a poem entitled, “Resurrection,” by Mary Ann Bernard:
“Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’s stormy head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.
Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
The children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes. It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.”
The poem is saying, spring doesn’t come by magic, but is born out of the grave of winter and thus Jesus comes from his own grave, rushing to Peter that he might rescue him from the grave of his denial. And so it is with us, the resurrected Jesus comes on this Easter to rescue us from our graves, be it a failing grade, a lost cause, the sense of being at the end our rope, from sin, from failure, from betrayal, rescuing us that we might begin again.
Out of the ashes of what once was and you thought was buried forever behind the grave stones of disappointment, loss, failure, Jesus comes, racing to us, risen from the dead, to rescue us that new dreams, new hope, new life might rise again.
PART 2. I Will Meet You In Galilee
The risen Lord’s first priority was Peter, the broken Peter, meeting Peter in all his isolation and private pain, and so it is with us, God’s first priority is that we know a love that will not let us go, a love that is with us at our greatest failing, our deepest sorrow, most grievous sin, and from which not even death can separate us.
But the goal is not simply to be beside us in our suffering and pain. The goal is not to have us dwell on our sin. The goal is not to be with us as we wallow in our failure. The goal is new life. The goal is forgiveness. The goal is healing. The goal is eternal life and that we might have life abundant.
So, Jesus says, not only, “Tell Peter,” but tell him, “I will meet him in Galilee.” Galilee is not Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents death. Jerusalem is the place of Golgotha and the place where Peter had his moral failing, showed his weakness and denied his friend.
Jesus says, “Tell Peter I will meet him in Galilee.” And what is Galilee? Galilee is the place of slopping hills, green pastures and the Sea of Tiberias. Galilee is the place to remember what it was like to feel the sun against your cheek, the satisfaction of a day’s work out on the water, fishing. Galilee is the place to remember what it was like to have dreams, believe the promises you made would be the promises you kept. Galilee is the place where Peter first met Jesus and Peter left everything to follow him.
And there by the sea they meet again. The water gently caresses the shore. A fire burns nearby where breakfast will be prepared. They stand on the sand facing one another. Jesus speaks first. He says to Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter’s heart skips a beat and pounds in his chest. “Yes, Lord, I love you.” Jesus asks again, “Peter, do you love me?” Peter’s eyes become moist, perhaps from the blowing sand, or might it be some other cause. He says to Jesus, “You know Lord, I love you.” And once more, Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love me?” And, this time, a smile crosses Peters face, a joy rises in his heart. He knows that night in Jerusalem is over. He says, “I do.” For every denial, Jesus has given Peter the opportunity to reclaim his allegiance, his loyalty, his friendship, his love for Jesus. What Jesus did by this meeting was in essence say to Peter, “You are not the fear of the night of denial in Jerusalem, but the love you confessed by the sea in Galilee.”
I don’t know where your Jerusalem is, and I don’t know where your Galilee is, but I do know this, the invitation of Easter, is to meet Jesus in Galilee.
It is the place of hope within you. It is the place where dreams can be recast. It is a place to reclaim the life that was once yours. It is the place of beginning again. It is the place where relationships can be repaired. It is the place of sin forgiven. It is the place where on this day the living Lord waits to meet you and where all over again you can fall in love with the living Lord. This, today, is a Galilean moment where the risen Lord waits for you that you may know life and know it abundantly and eternally.
Oh, and just so you know, perhaps in case you are worrying about one of your pastor’s knowledge of the Bible. I aced the final on the Book of Revelation. I still don’t understand Revelation, but I aced the final.
Now, leave the ‘F’s’ behind, the failing grades, all the ways you might have disappointed yourself or the ways others or events might have disappointed you, listen to Jesus’ instructions, “Leave the city of broken dreams, the city of Jerusalem, the city of denial, betrayal, a cross and a grave. This is not the place you will find me. I am instead waiting for you on the Galilean shore, a place far from an empty grave, a place called hope, a place where you can begin again.”
“Oh death where is your sting? Oh, death where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
A very Happy, Galilean Easter to everyone. Amen.