“Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God’s own commitment, that the best is yet to come.”
Could Easter mean more to anyone than Peter? More times than I can count, I’ve asked church groups and classes of students which biblical character they would choose to be if they could go back in time. It may surprise you to know, as it has me, that rarely does anyone select the apostle Peter. Peter, of all people– spokesman and passionate leader of the Twelve, one of Christ’s inner circle, head of the Church following Christ’s ascension, the “Rock” for Pete’s sake! As I consider possible reasons for this anomaly, the best explanation I can come up with is that believers are, for the most part, an unforgiving lot–not primarily of others but of ourselves. We cannot bear to admit our uncanny resemblance to a beloved friend of Jesus who betrayed him when stakes were the highest. It’s hard for us to get beyond the courtyard scene with accusations and sparks flying, Peter swearing, and cock crowing. We fail to acknowledge his stricken heart, grieving and repentant spirit, and dogged determination to never again fail his Lord.
Easter is more verb than noun. Resurrected Christ-followers do more than look behind wistfully or forward longingly. In a very real sense, Jesus folds aside the grave clothes and rises triumphantly each time a fallen sinner limps into his arms. Unfortunately, many reach down for those same macabre bandages and do their best to hide behind them. The struggle for believers is not finding divine mercy, but forgiving themselves. Herein lies the grand lesson from the Apostle’s experience: we do not live in the shadow of the cross, we thrive in hope emanating from an empty tomb. No one stands or stumbles beyond the reach of grace. Peter struggled with and never fully recovered from his own denial, but the brokenness he lived with in its wake forged a graceful spirit. Near the end of his life, grace and love became his theme, exhorting other believers to believe in God’s mercy, grace rolled off his tongue as easily as cursing did before. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10, NRSV). It is possible to forgive one’s self while remaining sensitive to the conditions that led us astray to begin with. Mercy and memory are suitable companions for disciples.
“May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:2b-4, NRSV)