23 March 2008

Homily - The Resurrection of Our Lord

“And Peter”
The Resurrection of Our Lord

Mark 16:1-8

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

On this glorious day of our Lord’s Resurrection, it’s customary to focus on the women who first heard the great news that Christ is risen. But we won’t today. It’s also customary to focus on the angel and the Good News that he proclaimed, saying, “He has risen; he is not here.” But the angel won’t be our main focus either. As we celebrate our Lord’s great and awesome victory over sin, death, devil, and hell, let’s focus on two small words in our Gospel reading. In fact, they’re so small that we often read right over them without pausing to ponder what they might mean, especially for us. What are these two words that bring us Easter joy today? “And Peter.”

Right after the angel proclaims that Christ is risen, he instructs the three women to “go, tell [Jesus’] disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” Why does Peter get singled out? Why does he receive an honorable mention?

Well, you remember Peter. He was one of the very first disciples Jesus had called. Actually, his brother Andrew introduced him to the Savior. Peter the fisherman was awestruck at Jesus’ miraculous catch of fish. He realized that he was in the presence of the Almighty Son of God in the flesh. So Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Lk. 5:8). As He loves to do, Jesus absolved Peter.

Peter also showed a bullish faith that could come off as a bull in a china shop. When he saw his Lord walking on the water, Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Mt. 14:28). Jesus said, “Come.” Peter began to walk on the water; but then the sight of turbulent waves caused him to fear … and to sink. His bullish faith was not so confident after all.

Sometime later, Peter made the good confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16). It was a glorious confession of faith given only by the heavenly Father. But even then Peter, the “Rock Man,” was not so solid in faith. When Jesus started talking about going to Jerusalem to be betrayed, to suffer, to die, and to rise again, Peter “began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Mt. 16:22). Then Jesus had to correct poor Peter.

Do you get the distinct impression that Peter was a man with many a conflict? He saw the Son of God, and realized he had to confess his sins. He wanted to follow Jesus into places like stormy seas, but what he saw and sensed got the better of him. And even when he made the good confession of Jesus as the Christ, he had to be corrected.

Then, of course, Peter, the head of Jesus’ band of disciples, the one whom Jesus dubbed “Rock Man,” the man who vowed he would never fall away from Jesus (Mt. 26:33), cracked under the weight of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering. You know the story. Three times Peter was asked if he weren’t one of Jesus’ disciples, and three times he denied his Lord and Savior. St. Luke even adds this poignant detail: “the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord…. And he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:61-62).

Here’s why we focus on those two little words: “and Peter.” Here’s why Peter gets honorable mention. He needs and receives the special comfort of Jesus’ Resurrection. He needs and receives the confidence that comes from Jesus’ victory over death and the grave. He needs to be restored by the risen Christ. And he is!

The risen Lord appeared to Peter, not once or twice, but at least three times on the first day of each week. With His third appearance, our risen Lord blessed Peter’s fishing trip, but even more, He restored Peter with a threefold commission to feed His sheep. The risen Lord restores His people.

So when you hear or read those two words—“and Peter”—feel free to put your own name there in place of Peter’s. You see, Peter is a picture of each of us. The angel might as well have told the women at the tomb, “He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and ______”—and here insert your name.

Yes, you and I are just like Peter. We have encountered the Lord of life, the Son of God. When we enter His presence, we realize that we are not worthy, and He must absolve us. Even as we exercise our bullish faith, we aren’t always that confident in our Lord’s goodness and mercy for us. We see the turbulent waves of life all around us, and we sink in our own despair, denials, and self-pity. We see how our mortal bodies give in to aging, to sickness, to decay and death. Anyone with glasses or a hearing aid, or with a debilitating disease or just a minor sports injury can tell you that. We can even make the great confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior – confessing Him in the Church’s liturgy, in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – but when the pressure is on and we must speak of Jesus to someone else, we crack under the pressure. We might even thoroughly enjoy coming to church on Easter Sunday, but what about Good Friday, when we get to hear just how great a love our Savior showed by dying for us? Like Peter, we want Jesus when He sounds strong and successful, but, like Peter, we’re not always so sure about walking with Him through the valley of the shadow of death.

But, dear friends, the angel’s sermon of Jesus’ Resurrection is for you just as much as it was for Peter. Our Lord’s Resurrection victory conquers your doubts, your denials, and your despairs. It overcomes your sin-sickness and your death, just as it did for Peter. So, go ahead, put yourself in the Easter story. “He has risen”—for you. He is not in the tomb—for your comfort and confidence. And you don’t even have to go to Galilee to see your risen Lord. You get to see Him, touch Him, and taste Him right here, at this very Altar. “There you will see Him, just as He told you” when He said, “Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you; take, drink, this is My Blood, shed for you.”

And as you come to see and taste your Risen Lord at His Altar, come with the great words of St. John Chrysostom ringing in your ears:

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

No comments: