“…then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”
So when we last left our hero, Simon Peter, he was having a pretty rough night. He’d just made a big hoopla out of his love for Jesus, and then he fell asleep when his friend needed his company most, he ran away when his friend was in danger, and—last but not least—he denied three times that he even knew Jesus.
And when he’d taken stock of his behavior, he went out and wept bitterly.
Wouldn’t you? I mean, just how would you feel if you were Peter? When I try to put myself in this guy’s sandals, I get pretty darn depressed. He’s lower than whale crap in the Marianas Trench. This is the time when you either kill yourself or let the drugs and the alcohol do it for you because you just don’t give a rip anymore. This is where you realize you’ve made a pile of smoking garbage out of what was supposed to be your life.
Look at it: Peter quit his good job to follow an itinerant rabbi. He also turned his back on his dad when he did this. He left his home. Now he knows he doesn’t have the guts to stand up for the cause he claimed he’d left everything for. He’s a false friend, a braggart, and a coward—and everyone knows it. He’s a giant, slimy bag of shame and disgrace. He’s disappointed himself, and he’s let his best friend down. What’s worse, he let his buddy get killed. And when Jesus died, all the dreams died with him.
I can’t imagine what went through peter’s head all day Friday and Saturday when Jesus was hanged on the cross and his corpse was put in its tomb.
But then came Sunday. Some crazy chicks came and said that tomb was empty. Nobody believed them. Nobody could believe them. It was impossible. I’m not sure Peter believed them either.
But he got up, and went to check it out. He summoned up one last speck of self-worth, one last desperate hope, and went to the tomb.
The New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament says he was “amazed.” The word in Greek could also mean “shock” or “wonder.” Personally, I think the word “amazing” is a little wimpy because it’s overused. “Shocked” is possible if you go with the idea that Peter was witnessing a pretty disgusting grave robbery. But I want to go with “wonder.” When you wonder about something, you have an anticipation. Wonder leads you forward. Wonder, if you’re in Peter’s place, is the moment when you put the gun back in the drawer or the sleeping pills back in the medicine cabinet. You pour your bottle of Jack Daniels down the sink and chuck your syringe in the garbage can. You suck it up and decide you’ll see if maybe something happens tomorrow.
And now Peter can wonder if the God who gave him life doesn’t just have the power over life and death. Now he can wonder if this end isn’t really the end after all.
When Peter encounters the risen Jesus he’s changed. Once he was just a doofus. But in Christ, he’s still a doofus—but he’s a doofus with hope. Yeah, he’ll go on to make a few more screw-ups. God will send him a radical vision of inclusivity, and he’ll try to argue his way out of it.[i] When some Jewish Christians demand that converts be circumcised, he’ll cave in to their demands[ii], but Paul; will set him straight by calling him out in public.
He’ll go on in faith to spread the word, according to legend, all the way to Rome itself. And the legend will tell us that when things got too hot for Christians during the reign of Nero, Peter would scoot out of town again. But then he would stop. And come to himself. And he’d go back to comfort and strengthen those who were being persecuted—even though it meant he would be crucified himself. And, of course, flamboyantly humble to the end, he would insist on being crucified upside down as he said he was not worthy to die as Jesus had died.
We remember his impetuous mistakes. But we cherish his compassion and his love and his true faithfulness to this day. And like Peter, we are called to wonder if our own tears and shame and weaknesses and bitterness and folly can be erased by what the Almighty God is in the process of doing for, in, and through each of us. We saw Jesus enter into all of our human pain—he even knew the despair of Peter when he cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.” But if he was united with us in our suffering, we must be united with him in his immortality.
And that is something to wonder about. Because wonder leads us to hope. And hope leads us to faith, and faith leads us to peace.
Christ is risen! Allelujah!