“And Peter”

“I’m going fishing,” Peter announces.

This isn’t some hobbyist speaking. It’s not the “think I’ll go and drop a line in the water” of someone that fishes for pleasure. It’s a step backwards, away from what Christ had called him to. An admission of failure. I’m no longer fit to be His disciple. I denied Him, not once, but three times. Even if He’s alive, He can’t possibly still want me.

Might as well go back to fishing. It’s all I know. It’s been an interesting three years, but it’s over.

“We’ll come with you”, say the others. Whether this is their own throwing-in of the towel, or a reluctance to let Peter go off by himself at a time like this, or a simple unwillingness to entirely forsake the camaraderie of those three years is anybody’s guess, but go they do.

They fish all night, but catch nothing. Three years is a long time, but Peter’s a grown man. He’s spent how many countless hours upon that lake, man and boy, learning his trade from his father before becoming a fisherman in his own right. That sort of ingrained skill doesn’t evaporate overnight, not even in three years.

Maybe God is against him. After all, he did deny His Son. At any rate, not one solitary fish.

At the close of the night, someone shouts from the beach.

“Friends, haven’t you caught anything?”

It might trigger a twinge of memory, but you put it out of your mind. That life is over. At any rate, it’s not an unusual question.

“Throw your nets on the other side of the boat,” the stranger calls, after the disciples’ negative response.

Now this is familiar territory. But there’s only one way to test it: Do what the stranger says.

What have they got to lose?

At once, their nets are bursting. They can’t hold all the fish.

There’s no doubt at all, and Peter knows it. Jesus is deliberately taking Him right back to the beginning, when he was an outcast fisherman, rejected by all the rabbis as unfit to be a disciple. One of the many whom the teachers of the Law of the Lord had put aside.

Now as then, Jesus breaks through all that. Others may find Peter too hardheaded, too impetuous, too indisciplined. Peter himself may find himself unfit. None of it matters. There’s only One opinion that counts, and it’s borne by the One standing on the beach.

Leaving the others behind in the boat, in his own impetuous way Peter plunges into the water as soon as he can stagger to shore.

When the others join them, Jesus has the grill all ready, with enough fish already cooking that the haul is superfluous. Breakfast is served: fresh fish a la Son of Man.

Some way through the breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside. “Do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, I love You,”

“Feed my sheep”.

The question repeats, then repeats again. By the third time, Peter is distinctly uncomfortable.

“Lord, You know all things”. You know how I failed You, how I let You down. You’re proving it right now. But You know that I do love You.

And the threefold declaration comes with a calling, not to be a fisher of men but a shepherd of the flock, and with a promise.

“You know, Peter, that when you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you’re old, someone else will dress you, and stretch out your hands, and lead you where you don’t want to go”. Yes, Peter, your death will be like Mine: hands outstretched. And this time, Peter, you won’t fail. You won’t deny Me; you’ll remain faithful, for My Spirit will be in you.

Christ is risen…

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Thomas

“You’re all crazy! Grief has unhinged your minds! We saw Him hanging on that cross. You think the Romans have started botching their executions all of a sudden?”

Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples. Understandably, though he was a little shaken up by their tales, he remained sceptical.

After all, if Jesus were really back from the dead, why didn’t they see Him all the time, like before? Why did He flit in and out like some sort of phantom, sometimes here, sometimes not?

“No, even if the rest of you are taking refuge in fantasy, I’m keeping my feet on the ground! Unless I can see the nail-prints in His hands and feet, and put my hand in His side, I’m not going to believe!”

Thomas probably isn’t quite that determined in his scepticism, but you know how it is. Disagreeing with a whole group of people who are all insisting that something is true can tend to entrench you in your opinion. You get more vehement in your opposition, even if you wouldn’t be quite so opposed if you sat down to think about it.

But as he is confidently proclaiming that Jesus can’t possibly be alive, there He is.

Thomas stops, aware that no-one is paying attention to him any more. He turns around, looks into the eyes of the risen Lord.

“Well, Thomas? You wanted to put your fingers in the nail marks? Here they are! Here is My side: put your hand in! Touch Me, put your hands on Me. I’m really here! Put away your doubts; you really can believe!”

Thomas’ response is immediate. He worships. “My Lord and my God!” No second-guessing Who Jesus is now. No “yes, He’s alive, but whether He’s God or not is another issue”. In one leap he moves beyond doubt into the certainty of faith, sure of so much more than merely that Jesus is alive.

“You believe because you have seen Me,” Jesus responds. “Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe”.

Christ is risen…

The Eleven

Cleopas and his friend drop everything and rush back to Jerusalem. The same seven miles, but what a difference!

Excited, they burst into the place where the disciples are staying to find them in an uproar:

“It’s true! The Lord has risen! Simon Peter saw Him!”

The disciples relate the news, then – “Weren’t you two going back to Emmaus?”

Then it’s the turn of the two to relate their story. How Jesus appeared to them as they were walking along, and opened the Scriptures to them, and how they had finally recognised Him when He broke the bread.

And quietly, somewhere in the middle of all the mutual rejoicing, there’s Jesus Himself, right in the middle of them.

One by one, every eye turns to the Master. “Peace be with you”. Shalom alechem. Hi, guys.

They freak out. It’s a ghost!

It’s not quite as crazily double-minded as it sounds. In their world, physical resurrection is a theoretical possibility that God might do, but ghosts are real and far more everyday. “It’s a ghost!”, to their worldview, is far more possible than “It’s the resurrection!”

“Why are you troubled?” Jesus asks them. “Why are you doubting? Look – it’s really Me, and I’m really here! In flesh and blood!”

They’re not convinced, so Jesus makes the one incontrovertible cultural proof of His resurrected physicality:

“Do you have anything to eat?”

Ghosts don’t eat physical food. They get their sustenance from the world of the dead. Even asking would have been a no-no for a ghost as they understood them.

They give Him a piece of roasted fish, and He takes it and eats it in front of them. Yeah, guys. I’m back!

Christ is risen…

The Emmaus Road

Sometime later that same morning. Cleopas and another disciple are on the road, heading out the seven miles to Cleopas’ home in Emmaus. Fighting the crowds thronging in to Jerusalem for the rest of the Passover festival, the “wrong way” of their physical orientation a metaphor for the way their lives felt right now.

But someone is going the same way they are. Their muffled conversation is interrupted with a friendly question: “What are you talking about as you travel along?”

They stop, staring. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem that doesn’t know what’s been going on?” Are you really that clueless?

Apparently so. “What? No, I haven’t heard. What’s been going on?”

“About Jesus, from Nazareth. He was a great prophet, He did all kinds of miraculous signs, He spoke like we’ve never heard before. But our feckless rulers and the chief priests handed Him over to the Romans, and they crucified Him.

That was three days ago.

“What’s more, this morning some of our women amazed us with a tale of having been at the tomb to find the stone rolled away!

“They told us an astounding story about having seen angels who told them He was alive! Some of our men went up to the tomb and found it as they had described it, but Him they did not see.

“And we had hoped that He was going to be the One to save us…”

Now it’s the Stranger’s turn to stare. “You foolish men! How slow you are to believe what was written in the Scriptures! Isn’t it written that the Messiah had to suffer?”

You think I’m clueless? You’re the clueless ones! It’s all written in the Scriptures; you ought to have expected this!

And the Stranger takes them through the whole Bible, Torah and Prophets, beginning with Genesis, explaining what had been written about the Promised One.

They reach Emmaus, but the Stranger acts like He’s going further. Bye, guys.

But according to the custom they press Him to stay. Hospitality is a big deal, but you’re supposed to refuse a couple of times to let them show how much they really want you to stay by inviting you over and over. And the Stranger allows Himself to be pressed into staying.

The host would normally break the bread, but the Stranger reaches out His hands and takes the bread to break it.

And all of a sudden their eyes are opened and they recognise the Stranger for who He is: Jesus. And then He’s gone. Vanished. But they know the truth.

Christ is risen…

Peter and John

The women hurry back, filled with joy and bewilderment, and report to the disciples what the angel had said.

The disciples… act like men of their culture. Women, eh? Unreliable. One step from crazy, all of them.

Remember, most Jewish men daily thanked God that they were not born a woman. It would have required a massive leap of imagination for rural fishermen to step outside of their cultural norms like that.

So they don’t believe them. In this particular it’s easy to get smug. We Know Better. But we have our own blind spots.

But Peter (impetuous Peter!) and John decide that someone should at least go and have a look. Peter was probably still stricken with remorse over his denial. John, who kows what was in his mind and heart.

With two burly fishermen involved, of course it becomes a race. John runs faster than Peter, gets to the tomb first. But he doesn’t enter in. Any contact with a dead body, even accidentally, would make him ritually unclean. It’s engrained in him from childhood: you don’t ever go into a tomb.

He peers inside, sees a glimpse of grave-wrappings.

Then Peter barrels up, pushing right past John into the tomb itself, heedless of the ritual consequences. Where was the Master? Was it true? Would he truly have a chance to somehow make up for having denied?

Inside are the grave garments: long strips of linen that were wound around the body, typically with spices to help mitigate the smell of decomposition.

But there’s something strange here. The grave clothes aren’t scattered around, as if someone were hastily unwrapping the corpse. They’re folded neatly: stacked to one side, with the head shroud separately.

What sort of weird grave-robber takes time to take off and fold the grave clothes in the tomb itself? Especially with a squad of Romans posted outside lest anyone try any funny business.

Could it be true? Was the women’s incredible story actually real?

Christ is risen…

The Women

Early predawn on the first day of the week. Some women are hurrying through the night.

It’s dark; a physical darkness matching the spiritual despair. Jesus, the great prophet from Nazareth, whom they had believed was God’s Chosen One, the promised Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies and bring about the reign of God on earth, was dead.

In those last shocking days, one of His twelve specially-selected Apostles had betrayed Him, handing Him over to the chief priests, who in collusion with the Roman imperial government had put Him to death on trumped-up charges. Even the crowd had turned on Him, stirred up by the chief priests who hated Jesus’ popularity and feared Him as a threat.

He’d been hastily taken down from the cross in the last rays of Friday so as not to desecrate the holy Passover Sabbath, hurriedly wrapped in grave-clothes and placed in the tomb a rich sympathiser had had dug for himself. They had seen the several-ton boulder rolled over the entrance. But maybe they hadn’t seen Pilate’s Roman seal placed over it, or heard about the stationing of guards. They have come to do what no-one had time for: to prepare Jesus’ body properly for burial with the sweet spices that were customary.

They are mostly quiet, but when they do talk, it’s questions. Chiefly, “how are we going to get into the tomb?”

They have no answer, but they press on regardless. They have to try.

They pass by a squad of Roman soldiers in an apparent catatonic state. Fear and bewilderment take hold: what was happening?

When they reach the tomb, an even more terrifying sight meets their eyes. There is the stone, rolled away from the entrance like it’s a chickpea being shunted around a plate, and a large man in white clothes sitting on it. This is in a day before Persil and its ilk, mind you; a day when true white was one of the most challenging colours to make and preserve. He’s shining; they describe him as “like lightning”.

The man’s very presence is terrifying. Almost every time an angel shows up on earth, the first thing they have to say is “fear not”.

The man speaks.

“Do not be afraid,” he says. “I know that you are seeking Jesus,” he says. “He is not here! He has risen, just as He said! Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Christ is risen…