by Fr. Daren J. Zehnle
It is one thing to be betrayed by one we love, but it is quite another to be the betrayer.
The words of the women seemed preposterous, indeed, "like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). The Eleven thought the women delusional, perhaps from grief, perhaps from exhaustion. But not Peter.
Peter, who said to Jesus, "I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you" (Luke 22:33); who went on the offensive in defense of the Master and cut off Malchus' ear (cf. John 18:10); who tree times denied Jesus, finally exclaiming, "I do not know the man!" (Matthew 26:74); who looked into Jesus' and saw Jesus' love and suffering (Luke 22:61); it was this Peter who interpreted the words of the women in perhaps a different light.
Until that moment Peter lived in a sleepless state, filled with grief and shame, the knowledge of his betrayal of the one he loved. He lived with the remembrance of Jesus' words to him: "Get behind me, Satan" (Matthew 16:23), and, "Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times" (John 13:38).
Jesus said those words so solemnly, with such anguish in his voice, and, though Peter protested, he proved them true. He found that what Jesus once said had proven true in him: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it" (Mark 8:35). Yes, Peter preserved his life from the hands of the Romans, but in doing so he lost his only friend worth having. His life, his existence, was now meaningless and empty.
Peter desired - more than anything else - the friendship of Jesus, but in that moment of weakness Peter refused his friendship to Jesus. And though Peter knew the forgiveness of the Lord when he looked into his eyes, the Master was no longer with him; his friendship was no longer available.
Peter was left, then, in a state much worse than the grief and mourning we experience at the death of one we love deeply. For three years his entire existence was built around the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; Peter invested everything in him and now he was dead, crucified and buried. He was left entirely without hope, which is a far worse state than even death.
Peter stumbled about in this hopeless state, having forgotten that the Lord had predicted not only his death, but also his resurrection. He explained to them that he must "suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised" (Matthew 16:21).
That his friend and Master would rise from the dead was far from Peter's thoughts, until he heard the words of the women when something stirred in his heart. Could their words be true? With this hope arising with him, he "got up and ran to the tomb" (Luke 24:12).
Peering into the tomb, Peter saw no lifeless body, but only the cloths from burial. Immediately he knew that what skeptics said could not be true: no one stealing a body would go to the trouble of leaving the cloths behind. He "went home amazed at what had happened" because he knew that what the Lord had predicted had come to pass: he was indeed risen from the dead (Luke 24:12). What Peter had said of Jesus, even at his own surprise, he now knew to be true: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
Now Peter had hope that these other words of Jesus would be made true in him: "but whoever loses it [his life] for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35). If Jesus was risen from the dead – as he said he would – there was still hope for Peter. Having known the bitterness of betrayal, having lost his life in saving it, Peter now was willing to abandon himself completely to Christ. In losing himself in Jesus, Peter knew now that he would find true life, the life of lasting joy and peace, the life unending.
Dear brothers and sisters, will you this day devote your efforts, as Peter once did, to serving your own pride and ego; to serving your own ambition and desires; to serving your own preservation? We see from the life of Saint Peter that doing so only leads to despair for it separates us from Christ Jesus who has come seeking our friendship.
Or will you, my friends, learn the profound lesson Peter learned and devote yourselves to serving Christ – in whatever way he asks of you – so that you may find true life?
This hope that Peter found, is it in you? If you, with Peter, look in faith into the eyes of Christ with repentant hearts, you will see his suffering and his love, and the hope that Peter found will be in you. If you listen to the words of the women that they heard from the angels as you, with Peter, look in faith into the tomb: "He is not here, but he has been raised," you will find this hope (Luke 24:6).
No, the Lord Jesus is not here, but he will soon be present in our midst at this altar. Preaching to the crowds, Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (John 6:54-56). This saying was hard for the people to hear and many of the people abandoned Jesus and turned to their own way upon hearing it.
The Lord turned to the Twelve and asked them, "Do you also want to leave" (John 6:67). It was Peter who answered, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Yes, to whom else indeed shall we go? Having lost his life in seeking to preserve it, Peter learned the truth of the words he spoken: only the Lord Jesus, whom the Father raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, has the words of eternal life. Indeed, he himself is life.
Gathered here around the altar of God we have returned once again to the Upper Room to receive the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord. By receiving him worthily, with faith, we are united with him who has brought death to death and our friendship with Jesus will be strengthened.
If we look to Christ, and seek to lose our lives in him, we, with Peter, will go home amazed at what we have, at what we have heard, and the love that we have known. Yes, my friends, let us abandon ourselves to Christ, to him whom even could not contain, for he his risen! Alleluia!
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