Something happens to St. Peter between Good Friday, the moment in this morning’s Gospel reading when he looks into the empty tomb, and the time a bit later when he makes the great speech in Caesarea we just heard from the Acts of the Apostles, and I wonder what it is?
What happens to change the way a person lives and moves and has their being; the way they meet principalities and powers, their neighbor or the stranger, the way they wait for God? What happened to St Peter, to the apostles, the disciples, all those friends of Jesus, followers of the way, who saw their best hope die on Good Friday and still came to hope anew? It’s almost the same question asked of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea in the Gospel of John, “how can a man be born again? How can Peter, who was such a sook sometimes, so quick to open mouth and insert foot, how does he come to live in the power of the Spirit, so full of the conviction that Christ lives, and that we all live in him, and will forever. What happened to him, and more importantly, how do we get there from here? How can we be born anew?
Recently I came across an essay on the web by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called “Faith Hope and Charity in Tomorrow’s World” and I want to quote it a lot this morning. He uses examples from St. John of the Cross to say that our Understanding, Memory and Will need to move into a newborn, God-given Faith, Hope and Love. And perhaps that’s how and why the church gathers after the resurrection: to see understanding move to faith, to consecrate memory to hope, and to let human will be lightened by God’s love.
Williams says one of the most crucial parts of the process of a Christian growing up, one of the most difficult parts of the journey, is coming to lose our way. That’s good news for those of us who’ve spent many years in what seemed to be detours. Getting it wrong is the start to getting it right. Williams writes:.”What we thought we understood we discover that we never did; what we thought we remembered is covered with confusion; and what we thought we wanted turns out to be empty. We have to be re-created in faith and hope and love for our understanding, our memory and our will to become what God really calls them to be.”
Does this sound like St Peter? Does this sound like anyone you know? A few years ago when I was emptying my parents house I came across a letter I had written when I was 19. I was quite clear about who I was, what I wanted to be, how I wanted to get there, and I am so very thankful for those detours!
What Peter and I both wanted - I think - was a system of how to make the world right: to know the right things to do, to say, to be. Instead Peter finds that having all the answers to all the questions is nothing compared with being in a relationship with the reality of God in human form, being face-to-face with love: but this is not easy to understand, and it takes time!
Again Williams: “...you learn somehow to be confident -- or at least to be reliant – on a presence, an other who does not change or go away. You realize that when the signposts and landmarks have been taken away there is a presence that does not let you go. And that's faith, I would say, in a very deeply biblical sense. Look at the disciples in the gospels. Look at the number of times when they say something spectacularly stupid and Jesus says, 'Don't even you understand?' Look at the times when they ask the silly questions, the times when they try to turn away, when they manifestly don't know what's going on. But in the great words at the end of John 6 spoken by Peter, they also say, 'Where else can we go?'
At the end there is nowhere to go because Jesus become our home. And in that homecoming, coming in like the prodigal to be embraced by the waiting father, we both come home and are able to make home for others. Again Williams:
“By our faithfulness to the lost, the suffering, the marginal we begin to show what it is to have faith in the one who doesn't let go.”
So understanding moves to faith, and more, to faithful relationship, and this living relationship is what moves our memory towards hope.
Ah memories! I remember, some 30 years ago, laughing at my mother and father when I talked about Senior Memory, when they would pause, waiting for the right word or name or date to come to mind. If they could see me now walking into a room and forgetting where I’m going or what I want. In moments like that I have to go deeper, and remember, on the deepest level, exactly where I am, and whose I am.
Rowan Williams writes:
“Hope, when it comes to birth, is not just a confidence that there is a future for us, it's also a confidence that there's a continuity so that the future is related to the same truth and living reality as the past and the present. Hope is again hope in relation;
relation to that which does not go away and abandon, relation to a reality which knows and sees and holds who we are. You have an identity because you have a witness of who you are.... What you don't understand or see, the bits of yourself you can't pull together in a convincing story are all held in a single gaze of love. You don't have to work out and finalise who you are and who you have been; you don't have to settle the absolute truth of your history or story; because in the eyes of the presence which does not go away, all that you have been and are is still present and real; it is held together in that unifying gaze as if you were to see a pile of apparently disparate, disconnected bits suddenly revealed as being held together by a string, twitched by the divine observer, the divine witness...
Hope in Christ, then, not simply confidence in the future, but confidence that past, present and future are held in one relationship so that the confusions about memory – who were we? Who was I? Who am I, and who are we? -- become bearable because of the witness in heaven, a witness who does not abandon.”
So memory is made perfect, and can rest in hope, But what about will? How does our will, that power that makes us and move us towards what we want, turn to love?
Williams says that we have lost touch with the “deep desires that actually make us who we are...the sense that there is a current in our lives moving [and our call and our destiny is this]...to discover slowly and patiently the direction of our life and to find the context in which we will grow as God means us to. To grow into love” and that is finally to come home.
So as our understanding is made perfect in faith, our memories made sacred in hope, our will is made perfect in Christ’s love for God, for us, for all. That is our call as the church, the gathering of God’s love. We are a new people in this faith, hope and love.
Listen: the stone has been rolled away, there is no dead body, he has risen from the grave, and all our understanding, memory and will are able by God’s grace and the love of Christ to be made new in faith, hope and charity, That is our call and our glory, for Christ is risen from the grave, and we are a new people. Alleluia!