In this Easter’s gospel reading the tomb is empty, leading us to believe that Jesus did what he said he would do on the third day after his crucifixion. Rise. But there was another miracle we mustn’t forget. Rising with him to this occasion were his earthly partners in the gospel—his disciples. Most notable in his rising was Peter.
This Sunday’s readings show us two Peters. Our first reading from Acts reveals the newly risen Peter. This is the Peter who finally gets it. The old Peter—the fearful, even cowardly, disciple who Jesus knew would deny knowing him—is dead and buried. That was the Peter who said he would never do such a thing. That was the Peter who told Jesus not to wash his feet. That was the one who was paralyzed with fear when surrounded by stormy seas. The one who thought he and his brother disciples could never feed thousands of people with so few loaves and fishes. The one who couldn’t cast a demon any further than he could cast the man the demon was possessing. The one about whom, as well as the other disciples, today’s gospel concludes: “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
The newly risen Peter of Easter Sunday’s first reading is the man Jesus knew would be reborn. The Rock: the leader who would keep the gospel alive. The one who finally got what Jesus was trying to givel him all along: that Jesus had to die, then come back to life in order to give all of humanity a second chance at life.
“This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,” the new Peter says, “not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
Even in the gospel reading, as the old Peter and the old John race to Jesus’ open tomb, we get an idea that these two are beginning to understand their place in the new order of things. Although the younger disciple beats Peter to the tomb, he doesn’t enter. Why? Maybe it’s because he knows that’s an honor that should be reserved for the new leader. The new Peter.
But it’s the new Paul who teaches us, via today’s second reading, that we must all bury our old selves and rise with Christ to the occasion he promised:
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”