Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; I Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
Evidently I wasn’t the only one who found this past winter too long and too dreary. It seemed as though it would never end.
Although we refer to the weather as a mysterious “it”–for example, “It’s raining”–this winter wasn’t a mystery. We’ve been warned for decades that our choice would result in such troublesome changes in the climate.
We’ve done some permanent damage to our natural environment but scientists, who know all the data, still recommend practices that will prosper endangered species or repair habitats. Like this spring, those changes, too, can be hoped for. It’s a question of taking responsibility for what we’ve wrought and making what reparation we can.
I think the three protagonists in today’s Gospel understand that at another level. Peter denied Christ while he was being interrogated in the house of the High Priest. The Beloved Disciple, who had brought Peter there because he was known to the High Priest, actually entered the house but had no effect on the outcome of the hearing. He doesn’t seem to have spoken up in Jesus’ defense; at best he witnessed the miscarriage of justice. Mary Magdalene, as a woman in a man’s world, couldn’t effect the situation. She at least did what she could: she stood by the cross of Jesus with his Mother and the Beloved Disciple; she didn’t run away or pretend that nothing was wrong. But what did she achieve? I imagine she was rebuking herself for her helplessness.
If we feel helpless before the changes in the climate or condemned to contribute to the problem, imagine how Peter, the Beloved Disciple and Mary Magdalene felt after the death of Jesus, each taking responsibility as most people rarely do.
When it comes to my own conscience, I can feel like each of them, from Peter’s overt denial, through the other Disciple’s ineffectiveness, to Mary’s helplessness. I follow Mary: she went to Jesus’ tomb. She may not have understood Jesus’ references to his resurrection. We tend, after all, to receive news not according to its novelty but the limits of our past experience. She just wanted to be near him and own her part in his death.
Peter, I imagine, was puzzled by Mary’s news of an empty tomb–what else was going to go wrong? He wasn’t expecting to find life, not in new and unexpected dimensions in a tomb! What he found was the real mystery of Jesus in his death and resurrection.
Once Peter had owned his sin, once he was at the tomb to do—whatever! even a limp gesture–to make up for his betrayal, that sin, repented and forgiven, allowed something to happen that nothing else could. No virtue, no clean record, no good name, no intelligence ever could allow what his sin, acknowledged and repented, could. Suddenly, Peter could be much more because he was emptied of the clutter of his good intentions. That sin forgiven opened up his faith to perceive, to be humbled enough to be filled with hope from God’s hand. Not hope from logic or merit, perhaps an inarticulate and unfocused hope but a hope gratuitous and fuller than anything any of us could imagine.