This week, I was given the great blessing to share my story of attending Cursillo and the impact it has had on my life with our church family. As I continue to discern God’s call in my life, reflecting on the gifts I have received in my faith leave me in awe of our God. Here is the text of my sermon:
When I was 8 years old, my parents went to Cursillo in the Diocese of Florida. I don’t remember much about the weekends they were gone but it drastically changed the way our family existed after this experience for them. And a seed was planted in my life that was nurtured as I grew up in the church. Literally, I grew up in the church. I was baptized at 6 weeks old and won’t use all my fingers if I count the number of Sundays that my family was not present for worship times. And just about any other days for that matter, too. We settled down before my eighth birthday on a coastal island in North Florida, where our church home became the historic St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish in Fernandina Beach. My church family there continues to play a significant role in my life even all these years later and it was the perfect setting for me to start my marriage with David almost 22 years ago. It was in that first year we lived in Fernandina that the Cursillo movement began in the diocese in the mid 70s. My parents have always been early adopters of new ideas so it was no surprise when they attended Cursillo #3 in the Diocese of Florida.
What I remember most about Cursillo back then was what it meant through my very young eyes, since I obviously hadn’t experienced it directly of course. My parents wore their Cursillo nametags to church every week and literally hoards of folks from our tiny parish began attending this periodic retreat. My parents sponsored about half of them I think, which meant they were driving all over the diocese at first until our diocese completed their own beautiful camp and conference center in Live Oak, about 2 hours away. They would leave on Thursdays with their green passenger van filled with excited friends and luggage, and then on Sundays, they would hire a babysitter for us girls for a marathon afternoon and evening so they could collect their pilgrims from their weekend, arriving home far after we went to bed on a school night. Monthly, Mom and Dad would gather with their Cursillo friends for Ultreyas at our church – which was another word for party to my ears as a child. They also enrolled in the Education For Ministry or EFM course, started our first youth group and joined the choir. They served on vestries and search committees, while preparing and serving at the altar. Mom was a Daughter of the King, ECW president and Dad was in charge of the acolytes, parish fish fries and oyster roasts. What I can see today as an adult, as I reflect on their evolution as Christians was that although we had always GONE to church…we were now going far beyond weekly attendance and my parents were seeking out ways to serve the larger church and community. When I was 16 years old, I attended Happening #19 (which is similar to Cursillo but designed for teenagers), going on to serve future Happening weekends in Florida and in my adopted diocese of North Carolina during my time in college. I was yearning for that same feeling of connectedness my parents seemed to have to their friends through Christ, and as a young adult, I looked forward to the day when I would be able to attend Cursillo with my future husband just like my parents before me. This gave me a great foundation.
Cursillo is a Spanish word meaning “short course” and that’s exactly it’s intent. Participants (or pilgrims) spend three nights and three days focusing on renewal, refreshment, and recommitment to living for Christ. Most who attend Cursillo call this a “mountain top” experience. But as a beach girl, it was more like a “tropical island” experience for me…those days of my Cursillo weekend were spent away from the world of distractions and obligations, focused on renewing my commitment to Christ and giving me the tools to carry me beyond the weekend and into my fourth day. People who have attended Cursillo are called Cursillistas, and for us, the fourth day is the rest of our lives AFTER the weekend is over, when we are back with our families, friends, jobs and commitments, distractions, challenges and responsibilities.
So, back to my parents….they both began “GROUPING” after attending Cursillo; which as a young child, I thought that was code for Escape, for my mom in particular from the responsibilities of parenting three young girls. What they were really doing was keeping one another accountable for living out their lives in Christ. Their groups met every week and didn’t change too much over the years in membership. My dad’s original group is still meeting today almost 38 years later, and he plans to rejoin them when he moves back to Florida later this year. The weekend is not meant to be a one time shot of Jesus juice but rather it is designed to give us Christians a virtual road map to stay focused on what God calls us to do in the world.
As I was preparing for my talk today, I studied today’s readings, including the Gospel reading from the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that has Jesus admonishing those who murder, pass judgment on others, call others’ unkind names, and those with issues in their marriage. There are literally zillions of ways that we Christians stray from our responsibilities of loving and caring for one another, and we will continue to do so with unfortunate frequency. But instead of just hanging our heads and accepting the troubles we see every day, there are things we can do – things that we KNOW we are called to do as we walk with Christ. Cursillo’s approach to a short course in the Christian Life was more than a reminder for me – it was a catalyst to jump-start my personal responsibility for the growth of my faith.
You too may be able to identify with this self-description; having grown up as a Christian and always being an Episcopalian, choosing to have faith hasn’t really ever been a struggle for me. I never really went through any dark periods in my life where I didn’t believe in God, or that He loved me and created me. I had a pretty non-eventful childhood in comparison to the many challenges that I know people face in their families, and that could be viewed as lucky or even as BLESSED. But I am here to tell you that what that sort of, flat-lined history of faith did for me – no real significant peaks or valleys – is it left me soft and complacent in my relationship with God. I said my prayers out of habit. I went to church every Sunday because that is what I had ALWAYS done my whole life. I did nothing heroic, had no great transformation when facing adversity; heck, I didn’t even have to make the effort to CHOOSE to believe. My Cursillo weekend made me realize that I could no longer sit back as a spectator in my life in Christ as a passive act of faith. I had to change my intentions to match God’s intentions when he created me and called me to follow him.
There are a lot of our daily activities and decisions, which put a barrier between God and us. This portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we hear today is intended to reach inside of each of us and shake us up a bit. I sure hope no one here today actually has committed murder, but the other list of acts that Jesus describes in his teachings today aren’t nearly as uncommon or even socially unacceptable as murder of course. But that is not the point at all. We may be able to identify with the particulars of divorce, judgment and lying; and it may make us uncomfortable. THAT IS GOOD! Being uncomfortable is a feeling I don’t like very much and when I feel uncomfortable, I am far more motivated to do something to change myself to move out of that feeling. And let’s face it — relying on my own decisions and myself alone, is probably what gets me in my biggest messes in life. It is ONLY when I rely on my Savior to lead and guide me in my daily life that I show any real progress toward self-improvement. Laws don’t necessarily help me; rules often get in my way and confine me. But the power of God’s love gives me the strength and determination to WANT to do better in my life and to do all things in love. Cursillo gave me the tools to consistently draw closer to Him and I am forever grateful for the chance to benefit from other’s witness of love and support that weekend and now in my fourth day.
So I ask you —- what is making you uncomfortable as you reflect on your relationship with God? But more importantly, what are you going to do about it? I am only a witness of my OWN life and decisions, and for me, making the decision to go to Cursillo was just one stop in my journey to discern God’s call to me. The results of my life in my Fourth Day are
· More intentional time in prayer; more focused listening to God
· Regular reading of the Bible as a tool for understanding my God
· Being deliberate in my actions to carry out the Kingdom work I am called to do.
None of that is radical. But all of it was haphazardly accomplished in my life with varying degrees of success prior to Cursillo. But my very favorite saying I learned on my weekend was this —- Make a Friend, Be a Friend, Bring a Friend to Christ. Friends – God calls us to love each other without discrimination of who may be deserving and to follow Him and bring others to Christ. If I imagine myself as one of the MULTITUDES who were able to hear the words of Jesus in person at the Sermon on the Mount, I am sure I would have been both uncomfortable and COMFORTED, knowing that my Savior was sent to save me. Not because I did anything to deserve it, but rather just because he loves me. And then I am called to help others feel that same love in Christ.
So I ask you to prayerfully consider whether Cursillo might be just what you need to begin moving in your walk with Christ. Talk it over with any one of us Cursillistas. We would love to help by answering questions you may have about the weekend or what the weekend has meant to each of us – because this is just my story. David and I shared the same weekend and had really unique experiences based on what we needed at that time in our lives. Come to a St. Peter’s Ultreya. Get together with one of our small groups or start one of your own where you focus on keeping one another accountable for staying faithful.
But at the very least, reflect on what little steps you can make today to focus on your prayer life, your time for study and the actions that you plan to take to live more intentionally in your relationship with God. Our relationships with one another require effort on our part to be successful. Let’s do the same with our relationship with Christ and take a more active role in serving and praising his name. There is a Cursillo weekend coming in March that may be timed just right for you to attend. Or maybe another weekend would fit better in your life. I challenge you to take the next step if you’ve been thinking and praying about this, or to learn more about the weekend and how to grow closer to God each and every day. Of all the relationships in my life, the one that both enriches me and challenges me the most is the one I have with God – and I am a better wife, mother, sister, friend, school principal and Child of God because of His Love. He is longing for a deeper relationship with you and me both…let’s at least take a step to meet Him.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Messengers from John the Baptist
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
This week has been filled with stories on the news about Nelson Mandela. I graduated from college in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison. As stories about his life were explored at this time, I realized then what an incredible man he was. I became hungry to learn more about his struggles for freedom from oppression for the majority of the people of South Africa. As I learned then and and has been reinforced this week as his life is reflected for all to see, Nelson Mandela rose from the humblest of beginnings, experienced some of the most extreme hardships that people can face and came from all that to change an entire nation and impact people far beyond the borders of his country. I’m sure he had days, weeks and even years of doubt that his work would have meaning or make any difference at all. And the leaders of South Africa surely hoped that this felon would never make a ripple in the ocean of discrimination. But the legacy of his humble life continues to this day and well beyond his life here on earth.
Today’s Gospel reading highlights a portion of the humble life of John – no razzle dazzle at all. As he spends time in prison for his work paving the way for the Messiah, he himself has doubts about Jesus being the Messiah – the very reason he is living life as a prisoner. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question with a definitive “Yes,” (no surprise there!) but rather he proves it by sending John’s followers back to him with tales of miracles. The kind of acts that can only come from the Messiah. But he takes it a step further by teaching his followers about John himself.
Jesus teaches his followers that the job of John the Baptist is a tough one. No “soft robes” or well dressed man would do for this important job – to go out in the world John needed to “be of the world.” Jesus pays, quite possible, the biggest compliment of all as he wraps up his lesson about John’s important work by telling the listeners and us as readers, that no one was more important among the people. This, right after John voiced his doubts about Jesus and his role in the world. I’ll be that when word got back to John about this, he felt more than a little like a jerk for wondering whether it was all going to be worth it.
There is only one John the Baptist, but the doubt he articulates is real for us all, right? Who hasn’t had those doubts? Even in the face of the evidence of God working directly in our lives and the lives of those we love and live with? Each of us as Christians is called to do our work in the Kingdom of God here on earth – much less substantial than what was required of John for sure, but look how far we can take it when we act on faith in the example of Nelson Mandela! I’m certainly no potential world leader destined to change the face of my country, but every day, I am tasked with waking up grateful, loving the hardest to love along with myself as a child of God, praying for guidance and studying the Word. If each of us committed to these seemingly small thoughts and actions, imagine the way the world would change right in front of our eyes? And the bonus? The building of our faith and the squashing down of our doubts.
As we spend these last weeks in Advent preparation, remember that preparing the way for the birth and coming again of our Savior is not passive in nature. Building our faith to prepare the way – now that is action that will bring about the best gifts of all!
All of our gifts come from you dear Lord, and we stand before you not worthy to receive them. Help us to remember we are worthy of your miracles and tasked with spreading your love in your Kingdom. Our faith in you is stronger than we think and we commit to building it in preparation for your coming. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Have you ever looked around you and seen people who clearly have more faith than you? You know, those people who just radiate peace and that all knowing look of “No worries, God’s got this!” We have all been a witness to our friends or family who have handled a significant health crisis who made it seem easy and reported all the miracles God had worked in their lives along with the way? Their faith waves in my face as if to mock me and make me sometimes say, “If only my faith was as big as hers!” If only….
So reading this passage not only brings me back to the question of how much faith is enough faith, but also makes me feel a bit bad about the obvious jealousy which can be my default. The last line of this passage really spoke to me today, and I read it as faith enough is all the faith I need to do what I know to do as a follower of Christ. This was a good wrap up to this reading, as the first line was a hook that made me want to read more….as if there is a recipe to follow or a heavenly flowchart of “if this, then that” steps to get me to enough. It’s also a pretty passive statement, as if Jesus’ job was to do faith TO us.
So first, I say that it is no one’s job to deepen my faith….no one but me. I can’t complain that the sermon isn’t reaching me, the Bible was too far from my reach, the poor live too far away for me to really reach out to them or that it’s inconvenient to spend time in study, piety and action as a Christian. I have been a passive person of faith for too long – and I have no one to blame it on. All I can do now is re-commit every day to living a life of faith, a deep commitment to following God’s will. I think of it like a carrot growing in the garden vs a bush with a crazy root ball; the carrot doesn’t spread out and get all tangled up as it grows. It is singularly focused in its genetic make up. I want my faith to be my genetic makeup too, keeping me from all distractions that put a roadblock between me and God’s plan for me.
The second lesson for me from this reading is that the faith I have is enough faith for me. If I follow my walk with Christ and believe his word, then I have enough faith. It’s what I am supposed to do. I have found in the trials and tribulations of life that the faith I have is enough when I need it and under whatever circumstances. And here is another note about that…we must (ok, I must!) stop comparing our faith to others. When we see those giants of faith cross our paths, remember that each of those “giants” has the same insecurities that we all do. And who knows what doubts they wrestle with too? My faith must be my very own. I must cultivate my relationship with Christ and my faith will be enough.
God of grace, I draw near to you. May my faith in you and your love and mercy be a comfort to me in time of trouble and a gift in abundance as you bless me. I pray my faith will continue to be enough. In your name I pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
We moved into our home in 2001. It was the third move in our then 9 year marriage, so I didn’t look much beyond a few years. So now as we start our thirteenth year in the same home, I am struck by how much stuff we have. When you move frequently, and if you are like me and just detest the chores of packing and unpacking, you tend to purge. When you can tuck stuff in a closet for 13 years and forget about it, you realize at some point that you are one cool whip container short of being invited to film an episode of “Hoarders!’
So how do we find ourselves with too much stuff? I think our American society is rife with messages of excess and enticements of the next best thing. My drawer full of awesome hair products is evidence of that (and I’m not even having a good hair day as I type this). In addition to our visual and audio bombardment of reminders of how incomplete our life is now without (fill in the blank here), we measure our life’s successes through the eyes of currency. As our daughter is ending her high school career, everyone has advice about what she should choose as her college major so she can graduate and make $xx,xxx salary right away. We look with envy on those who have “more” than we have – more money, more square footage in their home, more vacations, more fun = better life! Heck, we are even envious about people’s faith!
Greed is not a nice word – it just doesn’t invoke a warm and fuzzy feeling when we think about the concept. But Jesus is pretty clear in his parable in this passage of Luke’s Gospel. What are we doing with all this stuff in our lives???? If we spent a third of the energy/money/time on our relationship with and service to our Lord, we would have lives that were richer in ways that “things” cannot make us. Oh, and don’t we already know that, yet still fall in the stuff trap anyway?
And we always seem to feel like what we have is just never enough. Americans in particular have terms like “rainy day fund” and “back up plan” in our everyday vocabulary, making us feel like we need more than we have, even though we may have all that we need. Last week’s post discussed the Lord’s Prayer as our format for communicating with God (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/07/) and Jesus teaches us specifically to say, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” as if we should live for what God provides us today, knowing that he will provide for us again tomorrow and the next day after that. Since we are such control freaks (ok, maybe it’s just me here) we think we better have a contingency plan just in case.
Although I am not a collector of any one thing, I do find that my stuff can pile up around me. It can interfere with my ability to think clearly and focus on the task at hand when I am at work and my desk is cluttered with papers. When things are organized and every item is in its place, I find a sense of calm and ability to focus. Having what we need and not more than we can ever want or use is not what God calls us to do. As Christians, we are commanded to serve others, feed the hungry, take care of the sick and meek among us, and our stuff usually prevents us from doing that in any systematic way.
I find that I can give when I see a need, but mostly just up to the point where I think that giving more may hurt me. That is hard to say outloud and type in this space, as I am ashamed and embarassed to think that at all. I am sure I could give away my time, talent and treasure far more than I do today and I wouldn’t even notice a difference in my own needs – that is my insecurity talking, not my reality. So this week’s Gospel from Luke is just what I needed. I am reminded that I have really greedy tendencies and I want what is mine – I want my fair share. In my mind, my actual fair share is far smaller than the piles and piles of my fair share that I actually have, whether it’s money, space or stuff. And all that excess interferes with my true calling as a child of God. If I am to love and serve God with all my heart, mind, body, soul and will, then I need to get down to the nitty gritty with my stuff. It will be a process with ups and downs I’m sure, but I don’t want my time left in life to be spent hoarding more than I need of anything. If today were the day for perfect healing through death and eternal life, I wouldn’t need a thing I have now besides my uncluttered faith in my Lord and Savior.
Generous Father, you are worthy of all the glory and honor. Help me clear my heart, mind, body and soul and let my will be your will in all I do and say. I commit to loving and serving you through generosity of spirit and with a heart to serve, sharing your many gifts with all I meet. Thank you for loving me enough to give me enough, even though I never deserve it at all. To you be praised. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant
7 After Jesushad finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
For many of us Christians, we find ourselves measuring our faith against others. I know a woman who positively glows – she has an outwardly obvious faith and we have discussed many a serious theological issue together, proving to me that my impression of her faith is an accurate one. And when I look in the mirror, I am a bit envious of the ease with which she seems to navigate the challenges of life through the lens of her faith. Instinctively, I want to be more like that person and be able to live out my life so to represent that level of faith. Somehow, it makes me seem more “worthy” in my relationship with Christ.
Silly me…and maybe even silly you if you’ve ever had a similar experience! First of all, this isn’t a contest. The one with the most faith or who is the most worthy wins no additional grace from God. Secondly, we don’t have to be worthy in any way – our Lord loves us for us, without condition and without compromise. What a beautiful gift – God’s grace and mercy.
In Luke’s Gospel reading for today, Jesus illustrates this in a powerful story. A Roman military leader calls for Jesus to come heal his slave. This is an interesting twist on Jesus’ healing ministry, as this Centurion is not a believer of Jesus as savior. He just believes in his power to heal. In the face of it, that seems to defy any logic applied – who does he think he is demanding Jesus come and heal when the soldier doesn’t even believe or understand Jesus in relationship to God? It just wasn’t necessary to be “worthy” in this story; all that was needed was faith. Jesus didn’t even have to get close to the slave to heal him – he shared with his followers that the faith of this man was the most faith he had seen. The faith of the soldier must have been an unusual occurrence, even as it compared to the Jews who were gifted with Jesus’ presence for him to make such a statement as he does about all he has met in Israel.
Don’t be confused by this…this isn’t a story about someone deserving to be healed. Rather this is a tale of believing in Jesus for no other reason than that he makes the impossible seem possible. Those of us with faithful hearts can use a lesson or two from this Centurion. For me, my faith is foundational to who I am as a person. Yet still, I struggle with life’s challenges and have been known to question a thing or two that I thought God might have missed! And I reflect on my sinful self and can find myself believing that I’m not worthy of any blessing or gift too. But Jesus’ interaction with the Centurion and his request is a reminder to keep the faith. Focus less on our worthiness and more on our belief that in God we are well blessed. We can expect him to heal the parts of us in need and lead us down the path of following his will. It just takes the faith of one who BELIEVES in him.
Lord of healing and strength, we thank you for your grace and mercy that we do not do anything to deserve. Help us to believe in your power and will for us and to count on you with unwavering faith. We can do all things through you, Jesus Christ. Your grace is enough. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
You know those days – we all have them. We have the best of intentions and set out to do our part to make the world a better place through our small niche of interactions, actions and reactions. Then it all goes horribly wrong. We make mistake after mistake and even begin to marvel at how absolutely screwed up things have gotten over a relatively short period of time. Those days it may seem even hard to put words together to fully state the crazy events of the day, because it is just THAT BAD. Then we go to bed, glad to have the day behind us, only to awaken with a fresh start and a renewed spirit (hopefully we were able to put the bad day behind us!).
Let’s face it – Thursday and Friday before Easter were some really bad days for Jesus’ friend and follower, Peter. Up until that point, things had really been rocking along with the disciples. They were witness to powerful miracles and developing an intensely personal relationship with Jesus. He was dropping hints about leaving them but I’m sure those subtle statements just rolled away like water off a duck’s back. There was simply no way for mere humans to understand the power of Jesus’ words about leaving – things were just too great to stop it all now. Peter was one of those closest to Jesus, so it must have been quite a surprise to hear – right from Jesus’ mouth – that Peter would deny knowing him not once, but three times. But deny him is exactly what we read that Peter did following Jesus’ arrest. Did he set out to do that – of course not. In fact, I am sure he couldn’t believe he had done it either when he heard that rooster crow the last time. But none of us knows what we will do in a scary conflict until we are there. Peter must have felt incredibly disappointed in himself. Then the events of the crucifixion unfolded and Peter had to have known he played a key role in the process. My bad days haven’t ever really been THAT bad, but Peter’s feelings of devastation must have been so very overwhelming as he watched his friend die that Friday afternoon.
But the opportunity for redemption came much sooner than any of them expected! Peter was the first to hop up and take off running for the tomb when he heard the news that his friend was risen again, just as he said he would. Peter felt “amazed at what had happened.” The word amazed is probably the best English word choice based on translation, but seems to be very much an understatement. When Jesus rose from the dead after the dark and confusing weekend following his death, thinking of it today as amazing seems also to fall short of how mysterious this would have been for Jesus’ friends and followers, especially for Peter.
In our Christian faith, Easter is the big one! It’s the day in the church that represents our foundational belief that Jesus Christ came to save us from ourselves. I’ve made some sacrifices in my life for those I love, but none can even scratch the surface of the sacrifice that God made to share this gift of his son with us, even when we obviously weren’t deserving of it. Jesus Christ is risen today, as we celebrate every Easter morning, with the promise of new life in him. I’m sure his friends were all grateful once they realized who he was (another blog post about how confusing that must have been to not even recognize him when they saw him!), but I’m sure that Peter’s feelings were just indescribable.
Our lives intersect with Peter’s in so many ways. We have denied our Lord many more than three times. We have turned away as things are going badly and we make sure to protect ourselves when confronted with challenges to our beliefs. But Peter and all the rest of us children of God get both grace and mercy on this beautiful Easter morning. Peter spent the rest of his life doing what God called him to do, spreading the word of God to all who would listen and dedicating his work to fulfilling the promise of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me to be the very least we can do as we are renewed and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Gracious God, lover of all souls, bring us closer to you through the gift of your Son to the world. We are redeemed through the resurrection and we know what you ask of us as we walk with you in our daily lives. We commit to you that we will love one another and spread the Good News. Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Alleluia! Thanks be to God. AMEN.