Summary: How did Peter greet the first Easter? His failure before the crucifixion may have kept him from fully appreciating what Easter meant. Using the clues given in the gospels and elsewhere, the sermon discusses how Jesus dealt with Peter's failure and fear.
Peter and Easter
Though the women told and retold the story of their experience at the empty tomb, the Eleven and the other disciples didn't believe them. It was just too incredible.
Yet, Peter seems to have decided something must have happened at the tomb and determined to find out what. So he headed for the tomb. (We know from John’s Gospel that another apostle went with him; this was most likely John.)
At the tomb, Peter discovers it to be just as the women had said. It was empty. Well, empty except for the grave-clothes. That left him puzzled.
You see, even if Jesus hadn’t died—and Peter knew he had—but had merely seemed to die, in his weakened condition he could not have struggled out of those “strips of cloths” that had bound the body. And no grave-robbers would have taken the time to remove them.
So, Peter was baffled. John saw the clothes and realized what they meant. So he believed. Peter’s Easter faith would come just a little later.
This morning I want to take the sparse information we have and insights from the stories of other great Christians, mix in a bit of what I hope is sanctified imagination to try to surmise how "Peter's Easter" may have taken place.
For historical reasons we are often reluctant to say anything that might distinguish Peter from the other disciples. We don't want to imply he was treated with favoritism in any way. Yet, is it suggesting favoritism to affirm that Jesus deals with each of us according to our own need? Would it be so unusual to suggest Jesus did just that with Peter? As we look at the hints regarding Peter and Easter, I think we'll find that what happened.
On that great day, that first Easter, what did Peter need most? His need was multifaceted--it involved the need for repentance, reconciliation, and restoration.
The shock and horror of the crucifixion was amplified by Peter's bitter memory of failure. You recall the story. A few hours before his death Jesus had predicted his closest disciples would all run away, some even deny him. The ever impetuous Peter immediately protested: "No, Lord, I won't deny you."
Jesus responded, "Peter, before this night is over you will deny you know me three times."
"Nope, Lord," Peter insisted, "even if all these others deny you, I won't. I'll follow you even in death."
Of course, the other disciples chimed in their agreement. They wouldn't run away or deny Jesus. But Peter was the first and loudest to tell the Lord he was wrong. Jesus simply left it to time to prove he was right.
And, of course, he was.
Luke tells the story.
Luke 22:54 [The soldiers seized Jesus and] led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."
57 But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.
58 A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them." "Man, I am not!" Peter replied.
59 About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."
60 Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him:"Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." 62 And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.
So, Peter had done what only hours before had been unthinkable. He had committed an offense against Christ by denying he knew him. Jesus had done him only good. Jesus had healed his mother-in-law. Jesus had allowed him to hear and witness some of the most remarkable words and deeds in history. Jesus had inspired him to believe he could be more than he ever thought he could be. Yet, when the test came, he had failed Jesus.
If you can't relate to Peter you are a most remarkable person. Haven't we all blown it on our pilgrimage? Haven't we all found ourselves to be spectacular failures? Haven't we all done that which we once thought to be unthinkable?
If so, you can appreciate the shame and self-condemnation Peter felt.
You can understand why he may have felt he would never escape the memory of those words of denial, words he underscored with curses. It would never again be the same.
Such thinking might have led him to despair. He might have given up. We know such people--former church members--who experienced some moral of spiritual failure and have given up. They feel they can't be forgiven, can never come back.