My commentary today is based on one of the readings set for this date by the Orthodox Church, Mark 16:1-8.
This story should be familiar enough to even to the most reluctant of Christians, as it is told every Easter. In this Gospel reading, two of Jesus’ disciples, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome, approach Christ’s tomb to anoint His body with spices.
The two Marys approach the tomb of Christ in the very early morning of the Sunday after Christ’s death. At the tomb they find the massive stone, which had served to block the entrance, rolled away; there they meet an angel who greets them with the news of Christ’s resurrection, sending them to tell the disciples.
The story is so familiar that we often don’t pay attention closely, perhaps missing important lessons as our minds wander. It is just such an overlooked lesson contained in this passage I wish to explore today: In verse 7, the angel commands the women: "... Go your way, and tell (Jesus’) disciples and Peter that He goes before you into Galilee ..." The Angel, sending the women to the Apostles to announce the resurrection, singles out Peter.
Peter has recently denied knowing Christ, and wept bitterly for it. Perhaps Peter, hearing an invitation which did not include his name would have thought to himself, "I denied the Lord, and therefore I am no longer His disciple. He has rejected me and abhors me," (1) and so Peter might never answer the call of his Lord. Though Peter has repented with tears, he is still in danger of that most dangerous sin, despair. Indeed, let us remember that only a day has passed since Judas, like Peter, repented for his evil deeds. Yet Judas despaired in his repentance, and, adding tragedy to tragedy, took his own life, not living to see the resurrected Christ.
In this passage, Christ, through His angel, reaches out to Peter in his pain, calling him to Himself by name. This is especially pertinent for those of us who see our faults — and seeing them, become depressed. Seeing these, we lose our hope. We think to ourselves, "I yelled at my loved one," or "I hurt a friend," or any number other greater or lesser sins, "how can I call myself a Christian?" And so we despair; we are tempted to fall away from Christ, to forsake the Church, private prayer and the reading of Scriptures. In this way, people have often fallen into even greater sins and deeper despair until they no longer resemble their former self or even consider themselves to be a Christian.
As an alternative, let us look at Peter: He has betrayed Jesus, denying that he even knew Him. One can even argue that Peter’s betrayal is as great as Judas,’ yet this same Jesus reaches out to Peter; He does not wait for an apology or a public groveling on his knees. No. Rather, Jesus, through His angel, cuts off His disciple’s despair even before it can fully form, calling him to continue to be his disciple. Let us remember that Peter did not despair, but followed the invitation of his Lord, leading the apostles, and ending his life faithfully: his former denial of Christ cancelled by his refusal to deny Him, dying on a cross in Rome as a martyr for his Lord.
Let us, who likewise are tempted to despair, take hope from Peter. Let us turn to Christ our God, who has already forgiven us before we’ve asked, and who reaches out to us even before we know we need Him.
(1) The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, Translation Fr. Christopher Slade, Chrysostom Press, 1997, P 147
The Rev. Jesse Philo serves as Deacon at St. Silouan Orthodox Church in Walla Walla. He can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.