Feb 18 2010

The Grace of Showing Up

A Message for Holy Week

A big part of following Jesus is “showing up”. I know that mere arrival doesn’t sound like much; certainly not brave or dramatic or life-changing. Sometimes the condition that we arrive in is a lot less than we would wish: tired, distracted, depleted. We might question the value of being present at all. But it would be a mistake to fall into that temptation.

I want you to consider Peter as a prime example. When it comes to Maundy Thursday, he’s having a really bad day! The great Passover feast is marred by Jesus’ repeated talk of being arrested, crucified, and rising again. Even as our Lord assures the disciples that they will be inheriting the ministry of the Gospel and receiving the inspiration of the Spirit, he also says that they will face the same trials as him. Getting down on his knees, Jesus begins to humbly wash the feet of his followers. The prideful Peter protests, “You’ll never wash my feet!”, only to have Jesus reply, “If you won’t let me do this you have no share in me”. The disciple must relent.

Deeper into the evening, Jesus tells Peter that Satan wants to sift Peter like wheat. “But I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail, and you, when once you have turned back, will strengthen your brothers.” Peter declares loudly that he will never fail Jesus, even if it leads to prison and death. But Jesus responds, “Actually, you’re going to deny me this very evening, more than once”. Ouch! To top it off, when they go to Gethsemane and the anguished Jesus asks his friends to be vigilant, Peter falls asleep! The whole day is a disaster. Why bother?

Here’s why. When an armed mob comes and seizes Jesus, all of the disciples scatter except one: Peter. He shows up. Yes, he “follows at a distance”. But he follows nonetheless. And while Jesus is questioned and beaten in the high priest’s house, Peter is outside in the courtyard.

Here’s some good news: Showing up gives Peter the chance to fail spectacularly in the short term. Not once. Not twice. But three times.

You might ask, “What kind of good news is that?” But keep a couple of things in mind. First, Peter is there at the place of failure precisely because he is the one who followed Jesus’ direction. Because of his faithfulness. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to follow him only when it was safe, or convenient, or after it made perfect sense. He commanded them to follow wherever he went. That’s what Peter does. And it’s very, very good! Second, as Jesus is being beaten and mocked and interrogated — a most awful time — he is able to look outside and have his eyes meet Peter’s. Imagine what a grace it is for our deeply hurting Savior to realize that he is not all by himself. I ask you, Which is more faithful: To take a risk for the Lord and fall short, or not to try at all? To express fidelity and friendship imperfectly, or to abandon both the path and the relationship?

Life with Jesus transforms our failures. Later, on the other side of the cross, the risen Christ meets Peter again on a Galilean seashore. Jesus leads Peter through the heart of his failure to the promise beyond, asking him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” three times. When Peter cries out each time, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”, Jesus commissions Peter to new life. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me.” Peter goes on to become one of, if not the greatest, leader in the early church. An inspiration, a rock for others. Because he understands God’s grace. Jesus doesn’t see Peter’s denial as failure — because it isn’t the last word! It would only have been a failure if Peter hadn’t “turned again” and become the strength of the other disciples.

The Lord is able to do this with Peter, even in his vulnerability. Why? Because faith doesn’t mean perfection. It means “showing up”.

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