In the silence of Easter Saturday, what was going through Peter’s head?
He’d failed, of course, having denied knowing Jesus when asked by a couple of servant girls. He hadn’t been threatened, he hadn’t cracked under torture. No, the one time he kept his mouth shut was when a couple of kids notices he had a funny accent.
We think of it as cowardice, and it probably was, but here’s the thing, I think it was a strange, ‘manly’ form of cowardice.
I mean, look at Peter’s actions in the past. At a time when Jesus prophesied his own death, Peter got angry – “No way! They’ll have to get through me first!”
In retrospect it sounds like an empty boast, but maybe not – maybe Peter was utterly sincere, ready to stockpile the ammo and board up the windows the minute they caught a glimpse of their enemies. His boast came not long after confessing that Jesus was the Messiah, one of the New Testament ‘s great proclamations of faith, but while he got it right, he was still a long way from understanding what was really going on.
That’s why Jesus reacts so badly to Peter’s outburst. The path to Calvary isn’t a triumphant march, it’s a journey to the Cross, and the disciples just don’t get that. They want an easy win, one that doesn’t involve nails and a crown of thorns. Maybe that’s why Jesus yells “Get behind me Satan!” – a simplistic, easy way of establishing Jesus’s kingdom had been presented once before, during the temptation in the wilderness; it was a cheap parody of victory then and it is now, but imagine how attractive a cheap parody might seem when the alternative was crucifixion…
What if Jesus was presented with temptations, not just once but all the time? And what if he overcame them all, even when the ones doing the tempting were his family and friends, even when he could see them building an empire on sand, despite all the teachings and prophecies against that?
Peter spouted more than he listened and now his world’s come tumbling down.
See, while not everyone was looking for a military Messiah, enough people were to make it a popular belief that he would throw out the occupying Romans. Peter thinks he’s picked the winning team, and he has, but today’s Easter Saturday and that victory seems to have faded away. The Romans have won. Jesus has been crucified, just like every other revolutionary and wannabe Messiah.
Maybe we see a hint of this after the Last Supper, on the walk to Gethsemene. Jesus makes a seemingly out-of-character comment about taking swords; one of them is Peter’s and even though they’ve only got two between the Twelve of them, he still thinks he can make a fight of it.
And then along comes the Temple police and Peter draws his sword and in the confusion he cuts of the ear of a servant. That doesn’t sound like a well-aimed act of swordsmanship, it sounds like someone who wants to be a hero but really doesn’t have the hang of it. Let’s face it, he was trying to kill someone; maybe he thought he was drawing first blood in the Messiah’s great battle of liberation.
And then everything falls apart, because Jesus gives himself up, he rejects the use of violence, he heals his enemy.
The Messiah wasn’t meant to heal his enemies! He was the Lion of Judah, from the lineage of David! They didn’t heal their enemies, they kicked ass!
“They were looking for a lion,” as speaker Tim Day said yesterday, “But they found a lamb.”
We know now that this was how it was meant to work, that Christ’s death on the cross was a great redemptive surrender, the ultimate Passover Lamb, God sacrificing himself for his people. We know that because of 2,000 years of theology and sermons. But what about the people who actually lived that first Easter?
We find it easy to look at Peter and condemn him for not standing by Jesus, but I’m willing to bet that, in the hours after Good Friday, no-one condemned Peter more than Peter himself. And if he was guilty, well, maybe he was guilty of the same things we are, of wanting Jesus to live up to our politics and prejudices, of not really wanting him to heal the enemies we spend so much time trying to wound.
We want to win, and if we can’t win we want to go down in flames. We’re not so keen on sacrifice. I guess Peter wasn’t either – fighting’s more attractive than surrender. Was his denial motivated by cowardice? Partly, yeah, I guess, but maybe it was also something to do with a world falling apart at the seams.
In the silence of Easter Saturday, a thousand dreams and expectations lie dead in the dust.
But it’s still Saturday, and Sunday’s getting closer…
This post was inspired by two recent podcasts: Mars Hill Bible Church’s recent sermon on sloth, and the Meeting House’s Good Friday service.