Guest Blog

Easter Sermon

Sheffield Cathedral, Easter Day, 1 April 2018, 10.30am BBC Live Broadcast

Rt Revd Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield

Mark 16.1-8: And Peter

"Personally, I have a soft spot for a happy ending; and I am especially easily moved to tears by a reconciliation.  There are some beautiful sequences of true-life film online these days, capturing real moments of reunion, which are guaranteed to make me cry, one of the most recent being the footage // which records the conversation // that brought healing to the fractured friendship between two famous American professional basketball players, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas.  It’s easy to find and it’s worth watching.

There is something about a repaired relationship which tugs at our heartstrings, isn’t there? - something heart-warming about a restoration of harmony where two people have fallen out; and perhaps especially if one has badly let the other down.  Maybe that’s why I draw particular comfort from two words we heard a moment ago from Mark’s account of the first Easter day, which are peculiar to his version of the story.

We’ve just heard how, when the women arrive at the empty tomb, early on the first day of the week, hoping to anoint the dead body of Jesus, they’re shocked to find the tomb open and a young man sitting inside, dressed in white.  This angel speaks to them: ’Do not be alarmed.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised.  He is not here: look there is the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples - and Peter - that he is going ahead of you to Galilee: there you will see him, just as he told you’.

Go and tell his disciples, and Peter.  It’s those two words ‘and Peter’ that catch my attention.  Why are they added?  You won’t find them on the lips of the angel in the version of this story told by Matthew, Luke or John.  Why do they matter to Mark?  Well, I think there are two reasons, both of which might encourage us this morning as we celebrate afresh our Lord’s resurrection from the dead: the first reason has to do with what the Risen Lord wants for Peter; the second, with what he wants from Peter.

Let me say something about what the Lord might want for Peter to start with.  This is the first reference to Peter in the Gospel of Mark since the moment about 48 hours before, when the cock had crowed a second time and he had broken down and wept.  Our last glimpse of Peter is of his sobbing remorse at the realisation that he had indeed denied Jesus, as his Master had prophesied that he would.  This is a more catastrophic fall from grace than that of any Australian cricketer: as the curtain falls on his active participation in the Gospel story, Peter has failed.

So those two words ‘and Peter’ on the lips of the angel are full of hope.  They suggest that the Risen Jesus, far from having given up on Peter, far from having written him off, is intent on // re-establishing // a relationship with him.  It invites us to imagine a reconciliation by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, exactly along the lines of the one recorded in the Gospel of John.  And that in turn is reassuring to all those of us who know that we too have faltered and fallen short in our following of Jesus, to all those who weep with remorse today, or who feel estranged from God.  The same Risen Lord who tenderly reached out, via the angel and the women at the tomb, to the disciples and to Peter, reaches out to us as well, to invite us back to himself, to receive his forgiveness, to be renewed in his love.  He takes the first step: he wishes to be in a restored relationship with us — and we need only to say yes in our hearts for the reunion to be complete.

But it’s not only relationships between individuals which can need to be restored: communities, even nations, can fall out with one another too, divided pro against anti perhaps (whether the issue is Brexit in the UK or gun law reform in the USA); or north against south perhaps (whether the issue is economic prosperity in this country or political ideology on the Korean peninsular).  And that brings me, secondly, to what the Lord might want from Peter.

You see, when the angel urges the women to tell the disciples, And Peter, that the Risen Lord is going ahead of them to Galilee and will see them there, it is not just because the Lord wants a restored relationship with his friends and followers, heartening as that is; it’s also because he has work for them to do.  The restoration of a relationship is only step one; their commissioning in his service is step two.

Peter (who had denied even knowing his Master, who had failed him dreadfully and knew it) is not only fully reconciled to Jesus; he is also  given a share (in his case, a leading share) in the Lord’s own continuing mission.  It is this Peter who within weeks, on the day of Pentecost, will take to the streets of Jerusalem as spokesman-preacher for the early church, boldly declaring his Master’s resurrection.  Peter becomes an ambassador for Jesus and a peace-maker in the world.

And Peter serves as a model for all those of us who celebrate the Lord’s resurrection this morning, in this Cathedral and Diocese, across the country and around the world.  The Risen Lord not only draws us back to his love when we have fallen away from it; he also sends us out to bear witness to that love, to the love which offers hope wherever people (even whole communities) are divided from one another.  Each of us who celebrates the Lord’s resurrection this morning is called to be an ambassador for Jesus and a peace-maker in the world — where we are, and in the way that only we can.

Certainly, if the church is going to serve this nation (and indeed God’s world) effectively, in ways that make a real difference locally, transforming communities and regenerating neighbourhoods, we shall need both a sense of our relationship to the Risen Lord himself, and a sense of our calling, of being sent, to share his love with others.

So today as we give thanks for all that Easter means to us, we focus our gratitude on those two little words, And Peter, which give us hope of precisely those two things: a mended relationship with the Risen Lord when we have strayed from him or let him down; and a part to play in sharing with all the world the good news that God has indeed raised his Son Jesus Christ from the dead so that reconciliation is possible for all."

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