In the Tomb with Jesus
April 11, 2020
Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge, Minister of Pastoral Care
Lectionary Readings: Job 14:1-14 or Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24 • Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 • 1 Peter 4:1-8 • Matthew 27:57-66 or John 19:38-42
Holy Week at RRCB
Throughout Holy Week, we have allowed some of those who were present to Jesus near the end to be our guides, as portrayed by Frederick Buechner in his book, Peculiar Treasures. We’ve had Mary Magdalene be our guide, and Mark the gospel writer to be our guide, and today, Holy Saturday, allow Peter to be our guide. Here’s a portion of Buechner’s description.
And then there were the things he did or failed to do, those final, miserable days just before the end. At their last supper, when Jesus started to wash the disciples’ feet, it was Peter who protested—“You wash my feet!”—and when Jesus explained that it showed how they were all part of each other and servants together, Peter said, “Lord, not my feet only but my hands and my head!” And he would probably have stripped down to the altogether if Jesus hadn’t stopped him in time. At that same sad meal, Jesus said he would have to be going soon, and because Peter didn’t get what he meant or couldn’t face it, he asked about it, and Jesus explained what he meant was that he was going where nobody on earth could follow him. Peter finally got the point then and asked why he couldn’t follow. “I’ll lay down my life for you,” he said, and then Jesus said to him the hardest thing Peter had ever heard him say. “Listen, listen,” he said, “the cock won’t crow till you’ve betrayed me three times”, and that’s the way it was, of course—Peter sitting out there in the High Priest’s courtyard keeping warm by the fire while, inside, the ghastly interrogation was in process, and then the girl coming up to ask him three times if he wasn’t one of them and his replying each time that he didn’t know what in God’s name she was talking about. And then the old cock’s wattle trembled scarlet as up over the horizon it squawked the rising sun, and the tears running down Peter’s face like rain down a rock.
While John places himself at the foot of the cross, and James and John are described as being with Jesus in Gethsemane…When it comes to the Passion week, the spotlight, so far as disciples are concerned, falls on two of them: Judas and Peter. Judas is, of course, the one who betrays Jesus, supposedly for 30 pieces of silver, and almost immediately regrets his decision and commits suicide. If this betrayal of Jesus is indeed true, it would be most bazar to leave this portion of the story out. It’s rather essential. And we, at least the very human part of us, need for it to be there. For we need a villain. We need someone to (conveniently) blame. We need to pin this on someone. Only Judas is not alone. The other disciples are there, too, or at least somewhere, even Peter. And while Judas probably would have been voted most likely to betray Jesus (if there was such a category in the disciple’s yearbook) Peter would have probably been voted most faithful. He claims as much. Does he not? “Why, Jesus, I’ll die for you” And in the garden, while he showed he was anything but a trained fighter, he did pull a sword and do something; even if he only managed to cut off an ear, and that of an unfortunate servant. But then, there’s this denial, his denial. I love Buechner’s description of him crying like rain on a rock. Buechner is making a little play on words here. Peter-Petra-the rock. But it’s also a very apt description; because I’m sure Peter did cry. I’m sure it crushed him, his own betrayal of Jesus. It crushes us, too; for we need Peter not to bend, not to break. We need Peter to be who he wished he was and who we wish we were too—ever faithful, ever loyal, never betraying, never denying. Yes, if Judas represents us at our worst, Peter represents us at our best; and yet, he still falls short. We still fall short. We compromise. We concede. We rationalize. Yes, Peter’s denial, repeated three times for good measure, reminds us that even at our best, we too fail, reminds us that even at our best we are no better than the worst; and that all of us, all of us, are in need of the grace Jesus offered from the cross.
Now then, as we all know, Judas and Peter met different ends. Judas, in his guilt and grief, gives up on himself, and on the possibility that God’s grace could indeed forgive him. Peter, though…well, he could have done the same. I think that he could have; for I believe those tears were real. But instead of hanging himself, Peter hung in there. He gave grace a chance to find him and redeem him; and, as we all know, he went on to be the leading figures in the early church.
So the lessons Peter seeks to teach us during Holy Week are at least twofold. It calls us to face up to our faults, our failings; to our propensity we have to deny, to betray, to compromise when the going gets tough; the need we all have, even at our best, for grace. But then it also calls us to trust that grace, to trust that it has been, is, and will be enough, sufficient, for us and for all.
It’s Holy Saturday, dear friends. The lilies are not yet in the Sanctuary. We are not yet shouting our Hallelujah’s. We are with Jesus in the tomb, separated, isolated. But even now these truths remain, even now, that grace is sufficient. Blessings. See you tomorrow. Amen.