There’s a moment, a very quiet moment, in Mark’s account of the resurrection, that speaks volumes. It’s Easter Sunday, and a group of women, including Jesus’s mom and Mary Magdalene, have made their way to the tomb. The rest of the story is so well known we take it for granted – the tomb is empty, Jesus is risen. But here’s the bit that jumped out at me when I reread the passage:
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Wait a minute – why the distinction here? Peter is a disciple; heck, he’s the leader of the disciples. He’s the one who first confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and, as a result, became the guy on which the early church would be built. Peter’s a disciple.
But then Peter was the one who, rather than just running away, actually denied knowing Jesus three times. There Jesus is, on trial for his life, and one of his best friends is outside telling a kid he’s never heard of this alleged Messiah from Galilee.
Now, we can… Well, maybe not excuse this, but we can understand that people are capable of crumpling under pressure and panic. For all his boasts, Peter couldn’t handle the fear and confusion Jesus’s arrest and, frankly, the possibility that the same thing could happen to him.
What makes it worse is that Jesus prophesised this betrayal. And, on remembering that, Peter broke down and wept. It’s probably a fair bet that, right at this very moment, Peter is at the lowest point he’s ever been. The other person who betrayed Jesus ended up committing suicide – who knows what mental state Peter is in at the moment?
Well, the angel knows.
“Go and tell Peter that Jesus will see him in Galilee.”
There are two ways Peter could end up taking that message, I guess.
You could take it as a veiled threat – “You sold out Jesus and now you’re going to face the consequences.” Not Jesus’s style in any way, shape or form, but when you’re wracked with guilt, paranoia can take over. Would you want to look into the eyes of the one you betrayed? You could hear this as a message of judgement.
Or there’s another way to take it – “Come home Peter. You thought I was dead and gone and that this great adventure was over. It’s not, the gang’s going to be reunited. Come on home.”
It’s a message of hope. The women need to carry this back to Peter so he can be forgiven and healed. All the things Jesus said about him being the rock among the disciples are still true. Yes, Peter’s messed up royally, catastrophically, but his story isn’t over. Restoration is on the horizon.
And yet there’s an edge to this – the angel gives the women a message that specifically seems to over an open hand to Peter… And they don’t deliver it, not immediately: “They said nothing to anybody, because they were afraid”. In other words, Peter’s healing and restoration is potentially delayed because of the fear of other people.
There’s a message there somewhere, right?
But let’s not leave it there, because the message did get delivered. Let’s leave it on the shore of Lake Galilee, where Jesus forgives and reinstates Peter. Because that’s what Easter is all about – forgiveness, hope, restoration.