Sunday, April 14, 2013

Third Easter

Year C, John 21: 1-9
Baptism of Luke Field, Helen Hutchings,
Kingston Smith, and Issac Smith

The Third Easter Sunday now, and a word of welcome: grace and peace.  Last weekend here at St. Andrew’s we had four baptisms—three on Saturday and one at the 9 a.m. service, and now this morning four more—wow!--Luke, Helen, Kingston, Issac!  Which is so wonderful, and truly an Easter of celebration for us, as we have the opportunity to affirm again and again to renew our commitment as well to the new life of our risen Lord and Savior.  All Easter, all the time . . . .  The Head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now.  Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti.

So here:  the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Last Tycoon said, “there are no second acts in American lives.”  By which I think he meant that our history is our destiny.  Who you were is who you are is who you will be--and no matter how hard you try, no matter how far you run, no matter how you hide, your past will always track you down.  Your history is your destiny, and there is no escape.   

Our national pastime may seem to be some kind of strange concoction of codependency and denial.   But sooner or later, the bills come due, the lights come on, the doors swing open—and what we were running from is no longer behind us, but right in front of us.  Our history is our destiny.   Every bill comes due and gets paid, one way or another.

Who gets a second chance?  A clean slate?  A fresh start?  Where could that come from?  How could it really happen?

And so, this story from the 21st Chapter of St. John, in the heart of the Easter season and the Easter moment in our lives and in the lives of the friends of Jesus.  Some days have passed.  They've left Jerusalem and returned home to the Galilee.  All the confusing events of Holy Week and Easter morning still swirling in their minds.  A jumble of thoughts, memories, emotions.  The Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Arrest and Trail.  Good Friday.  And then of course the visions and experiences of Easter morning, of the evening of Easter Day, of the Sunday after that, with Thomas.  The stories of other disciples, like those who met the Stranger on the Road to Emmaus.  All a jumble.

For Peter this must have all been especially hard, especially confusing.  He had been the leader, in some ways the closest to Jesus.   And in the hours before the arrest it was Peter who was the boldest, pledging that he would defend Jesus whatever the cost, seizing a sword, and even in the Garden unsheathing the sword and striking the servant of the High Priest on the head, causing him to lose an ear.

Confusing and humiliating.  Because as they all knew, and as Peter knew even more acutely than they all did, when the situation then got really dangerous, he was the one who gave into his fear.  Betraying Jesus not just once, but three times.  Three times, in the dark courtyard of the High Priest, as the rooster was crowing the dawn of that horrible Good Friday morning. 

What Peter must have been feeling and thinking of himself as they hiked the back roads home.   Humiliated.  A fool.  All talk, no action.  A big talker—but when the going got tough, he was the first to get going.  None of the others said anything.  None of them had to.  And if Judas went out and hanged himself when he realized the enormity of his crime, I wonder what Peter was thinking.  

And so this scene by the lake.  And as had happened so many times before, the disciples have gone fishing, and then as they put in, ready to give up, Jesus is there.   Peter seems almost crazy.  Grabs his clothes and then leaps into the water to swim to shore.  He can’t believe that it’s true.  Can’t believe it really is Jesus.  But he needs it to be true.  He needs it to be Jesus. 

And Jesus prepares a meal for them all, and they sit and eat in stunned silence.  Awe and wonder, fear and love. 

And then Jesus turns to Peter.  Their eyes meet.  And echoing in Peter’s mind must be the sudden horrible replay of that night.  “I do not know the man, I am not one of his disciples, I’ve never heard of him.”  That moment of his cowardice, his greatest shame.  An indelible mark on his life forever. 

And the Lord of all Tenderness then turns to him, and allows him to turn the Three Denials all around.  Rewind.  Reset.  The charcoal fire crackles in the background.  The light of the morning. Does Peter even manage to say the words?  “I’m sorry, Lord.”  Sorry I let you down.  A miserable offender.  No health in me at all.  I’m sorry.

 Peter, Peter, Peter: Do you love me?  Do you love me?  Do you love me? 

Yes, I love you; Yes, I love you; Lord, you know everything.  The depths of my heart.  You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of everything.  You know.   Yes, I love you.

And then the promise.  In the victory of love.  Peter, your life from here, every day, and every hour, from this time forward, and even at the end of your life, every moment, will be from here and now, to glorify God.  Not a failure, but the greatest of great victories.  Not shame.  The humiliation, the one who betrayed, the one who denied.  But glory.  All glory.

This is what it is all about when we stand as a family and as Christian friends around the font.  What it means when we look up over our heads to see the towering Cross, to remember his words to us from John 12, “and I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”

Our history isn't our destiny.  Not if we live in him.  Peter knew that, which I suppose is why he jumped into the water—what a baptism that was!!-- probably weeping with joy all the way in as he swam toward shore.  He knew Jesus well enough to know this.  That in the presence of Jesus this aching of his heart and soul, this shame and humiliation, the guilt of his sin, his betrayal—in the presence of Jesus, the mark of the Cross still scarred on the palm of his hands, and with one word, with a touch, a blessing, that would all be gone.   My Cross was for you.  My resurrection is for you.

And it turned out all to be true.  We read on into the Acts of the Apostles of a Peter who strides into the future from this morning by the lake with the radiance of a spiritual power and authority, a conviction, a sense of mission and purpose, and without even the faintest hint of that shadow.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.   It was all wiped clean, all paid for.  Accomplished.  And even at his death, so the tradition goes, crucified himself on the road outside Rome, witnessing the power and the love of his Savior, filled not with shame but with glory.

In the water of baptism we died with him, and Luke and Helen and Kingston and Issac.  That we all may join with him in his resurrection, and that we all may be unified with him in this holy life of blessing and forgiveness.   That our life and our death may be all grace and all glory. 

A “second act.”  A fresh start.  To place the burden of our brokenness on his shoulders, in the embrace of his arms stretched out there, for us.  And then to rise with him, in all Easter blessing.  Christos anesti!  Alithos anesti!

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