A reflection on the readings for Easter 3C by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
I tend to be the sort of person who overanalyses things, I suppose that is why I became a scientist. These days, I don’t have the science to fall back on, so I often go home and pick apart a conversation I’ve had, worry that perhaps something I have said has caused offence. I particularly worry about certain situations, perhaps the most stressful are funerals. I always want to make sure that the person who has died is treated respectfully and given the send off they deserve because we are all precious to God and we deserve the best. I also don’t want to cause the bereaved family any unnecessary distress – grief is hard enough. However, no matter how much care I have taken, I still often come home thinking I could have done something better. I have learnt not to beat myself up over it and not to dwell on the things that have gone wrong too much. Actually, even though you may not think things have gone that well, people tell you differently as they say ‘what a lovely service’, or whatever. It doesn’t quite stop the worry..but, we are after all only human and we can only do our best. I always hope that I haven’t let people down too badly and I’ve never heard that I have, so perhaps, it is not all that bad..!
And yet, we can never be too complacent, part of the human condition is that we can, and often do, let people down beyond our imagining, and nothing prepares us for that. When that happens, grim realisation often creeps in. There is nothing worse than knowing that we have let someone down. The distress can often cause us to go to the extent of crossing the road to avoid the person we have offended…after all, that is much easier than having to face them and admit our wrong-doing and say sorry.
So, from time to time we all let someone down to an extent we are uncomfortable with, if it has happened to me, then I’m sure it has also happened to you. Whether we have, or haven’t, I’m sure we have all at least felt as though we have. That is, I hope, our natural humility..! We have no greater example for that than the disciples of Jesus. Judas Iscariot betrayed, Peter denied him not once, but three times, the others ran away frightened. It was only the women, and the disciple who Jesus loved, whoever that may be, who stood steadfastly at the foot of the cross and watched as he died. It was also the women who were first at the empty tomb, they went there expecting to find a stone that would need to be moved and a body to be anointed. Instead they found the stone rolled away and empty grave-clothes….no body.
Mary Magdalene meets Jesus alone, she presumes he is the gardener at first, when she realises the truth she runs off at his command to tell the disciples that he has risen. The risen Christ appears to his disciples more than once, behind closed doors, in the upper room. They are locked away, frightened. Then he comes and stands among them and says ‘Peace be with you’. These men who ran away, these men who couldn’t face the reality of their Lord and master being crucified. Jesus comes and stands in the midst of them and says ‘Peace be with you’. I can’t imagine what they must have felt right then. They were probably terrified and horrified. They had promised so much. Peter had said ‘ I will lay down my life for you.’ (John 13. 37), James & John had promised that they could drink the same cup that Jesus drank (Mark 10: 39-40). The reality was very different from what they expected. If they had seen Jesus walking along the street would they have crossed the road to avoid him? Quite possibly. But the reality is that they are terrified of what would happen next, scared for their own lives because they had known and followed Jesus, and so they stayed hidden behind closed doors. Despite everything, Jesus returns and stands among them and says ‘Peace be with you’. That to me sounds like ‘don’t worry, all is forgiven’. Jesus returns, forgiving as always. He is the same as he was before. Jesus is constant.
By the time Jesus appears to his disciples on the beach one can’t help wondering whether they are a little more comfortable with him again, gradually getting to realise that it is okay that they have let him down. They are not the first and they wont be the last, since almost the beginning of time and for eternity God has to face day in day out someone letting him down. We do that to our parents all the time, God forgives us and accepts us just as our parents do.
On that beach in those days following the resurrection, Jesus greets his disciples and cooks for them..after a hard nights fishing there can be nothing finer than barbequed fish. His disciples have gone back to something they know, their trade in order to deal with his death and resurrection. They have tried just sitting around behind closed doors, but that hasn’t quite worked. Now they are out-doors working again..! Peter runs to him. Each time Jesus appears the disciples gain confidence. and yet we hear that ‘Peter was hurt’ because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved him. Was Peter hurt. or was he realising just how badly he had let Jesus down an d perhaps realising that Jesus was far more loyal than he had been. Peter denied Jesus three times and so to make it right again, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times, gradually order is restored. But that is only temporary. Peter made a mistake, he got scared and he hid. But Jesus warns him that his future will be full of risk. In many ways he has been the ultimate let down, but there is plenty of time to redeem himself. Peter is left in no doubt that his courtyard experience will be repeated and that he must ‘do better next time’. He must be stronger, better than he was before, he has been given a second chance.
One can’t help wondering what mercy would have been shown to Judas Iscariot had his shame not driven him to take his own life, after all perhaps he showed more loyalty to Jesus by fulfilling his command..we will never really know what went through Judas’ mind that night. What we can be sure of is that no matter what we have done, no matter how badly we have let our Lord down we will always be forgiven.