Easter Vigil

In our reading from Exodus, we hear of the Israelites liberation from slavery.  Miriam and all the women dance for joy.  The psalm that follows expresses the Israelites’ gladness in being saved by God.  In the reading from Romans, Paul tells us that when Jesus was crucified, our sinful selves were crucified with him, and we are no longer slaves to sin.  Like the Israelites, we have been freed.  Out of love, God has forgiven us and saved us.  The second psalm reminds us of God’s steadfast and everlasting love.

Unlike the joy and celebration of these readings, the gospel describes mixed responses of those who first witness the resurrection.  The angels announce to the women the good news of the resurrection.  The women initially respond in fear, but once they recall Jesus’ words, they realize that Jesus is alive and rush to tell the Apostles.  But the Apostles respond with disbelief.  Rather than receiving the amazing news with joy, they dismiss it as an idle tale, just nonsense.  To their credit, it was common knowledge in those days that women’s testimony was unreliable, and the story certainly seemed fantastic.  But Peter, unlike the rest of the Apostles, responded differently.  Rather than just dismissing the news, he ran to the tomb to see for himself.  What did Peter know that the other Apostles didn’t?  The gospel of Luke doesn’t tell us Peter’s motivations, so we will have to speculate.

On the one hand, Peter seems like the last person who would want to go looking for Jesus.  In the gospels, he always seems to be messing up.  When Jesus walks on water, Peter wants to walk on water too, but is overcome by fear and sinks.  When Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to witness the transfiguration, Peter offers to build 3 booths, as though the mountain should now be a tourist attraction.  And at the Passover meal, Peter proclaims that he is willing to die with Jesus, yet he ends up denying Jesus 3 times.

Despite all of this, the gospels reveal that Peter and Jesus were close companions. Despite Peter’s bumbling, he loved Jesus with his whole heart and Jesus loved him right back. Because of their close relationship, Peter may have understood things about Jesus that the other disciples didn’t.

So, what might Peter have known?  Perhaps Peter knew that he didn’t have to have perfect faith or unshakeable courage or always do the right thing to be loved by Jesus.  Jesus loved him, no matter what.  We all long to be loved like that.  Perhaps Peter’s desire to experience Jesus’ boundless, unconditional love made him run to the tomb.

Maybe because Peter messed up so often, he knew from experience how forgiving Jesus was.  He remembered all the times when he put his foot in his mouth or did the wrong thing, and recalled that Jesus always forgave him.  We all long to be forgiven like that.  Perhaps Peter’s need for forgiveness made him run to the tomb.

Another possibility might be that Peter saw how much Jesus loved his friends, his disciples, the people he healed, really everybody. Jesus loved them all so much and so completely, that Jesus would never let their relationship end.  He would never abandon those he loved, no matter what.  Even if he died.  We all long for a relationship like that.  Perhaps longing for that relationship with Jesus is what made Peter run to the tomb.

The wonder, the mystery, and the great joy of Easter is that all these possibilities are offered to us.  Through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, we are assured of God’s unconditional love, that we have only to ask to be forgiven, and that God is with us, now and always.  Nothing, not even death, can come between us and the love of God in Jesus Christ.  This great love extends beyond Jesus’ own death and resurrection, and it extends beyond ours as well.

Let us rejoice and be glad.

Happy Easter.