04 August 2008

Tell the disciples -- and Peter

When I am discouraged, I usually turn to the gospel of Mark. His is my favourite gospel and Isaiah is my favourite TNACH book. (Mark in almost any version but Isaiah only in the KJV – my Hebrew is nonexistent anymore).

I love Mark’s Jack Webb approach: “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Mark is so blunt. He refuses to sugar coat the disciples. Mark just exposes them, warts and all. They are fully human, petty, childish, dumb, and yet loyal to the end – almost. Mark is the “scratch and sniff” gospel. For all of these reasons, I love Mark and I love to teach Mark.

My favourite verse is 16.7 – But go tell his disciples – especially Peter – that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

I have heard that verse at least once each Easter for fifty years (I was born 4 August, by the way). But I did not understand the real (and most important) message it contains until this past Lent. I taught Mark for a group of UCC folk. These mostly women were the best class I have ever taught. They were open to all possibilities, receptive to new and controversial information and they never closed down, not once. Even when they disagreed, they continued to talk and ask questions, and at the end of each class, there was fellowship with everyone.

Preparing to teach chapter sixteen, I made a holy hour before I wrote my “lecture.” While sitting in the presence of Our Lord, I had one of “those moments.” I know that all of you already know this, but you must remember that I am, to quote Winne the Pooh, "a bear of very little brain" so it took 51 years to get the point.

I read verse sixteen and started into verse seventeen but the Holy Spirit slapped me up-side the head and made me read verse sixteen over and over and over. Finally, I understood the real message of that verse

I had always presumed that Jesus wanted the disciples to know he was going Galilee and would meet them there. Yes, that was important to know. He had chosen Peter as the first among equals, so Peter needed to be mentioned – to give him the place of prominence.

All of that is true, but I realized there was so much more in those few words.

The message is that Jesus wanted Peter to know – especially Peter. Peter was in deep despair: he had denied knowing Jesus, he had promised to stay with Jesus but fled in terror. Nevertheless, Jesus said tell Peter! Jesus wanted him to know. That is the real message. “Tell my friend Peter I'll meet him in Galilee.” I cannot articulate what understanding that did for me.

The Spirit was not finished with me, though. I understood that if Judas has been alive, Jesus would have said, “Tell the disciples -- especially Peter and Judas…”

Jesus had already forgiven them – he had forgiven them even before they knew what they were going to do. In those few words Jesus said, “It is okay – it’s really okay. I love you just as much as I did five days ago.”

In that moment, I understood that Paul, too, understood: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Neither slave, free, Greek, Jew, Gentile, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, radical, conservative, believer, or atheist -- nothing can separate us from his love.

Jesus lived with us; he knows our frailties and our weaknesses and yet he still accepts us and forgives us before we even stumble. In spite of everything, he knows about us, and yet he stills calls and claims us as his own.

His love is greater than our ability to screw things up. That is the real message delivered that morning.

Go tell the disciples, especially those who need to hear it most, that he goes before them into [the unknown] and they will see him there.”

That is the message to us today. As we tread unto the unknown, Jesus is already there waiting for us, having prepared all things for our arrival. He has the light on for us. Fear not.

Deo Gratias!