Whenever Jesus spoke in parables he often asked his listeners to discern the presence of God between two contrary positions: the narrow or wide gate, the sheep and the goats, “a man had two sons.” It’s a pretty useful and ancient instructive device that was deeply rooted in the rabbinic tradition of the day. The first Psalm, in fact, paves the way for much of the wisdom tradition, essentially saying that there is a way that leads to life, and a way that leads to destruction. Parents still embrace this tool. “You can either finish your vegetables and stay for dessert,” we say, “or you can not eat your vegetables and go to your room. Which of these ways will lead you to chocolate cake?”
I think that we can look at the Easter story through the lens of two individuals as a way to make some sense of what the resurrection means for us. On the night that Jesus was arrested, two of his closest friends, Judas and Peter, betrayed him. Two disciples who had been with Jesus for three years, listened to his teachings, and saw him perform one miracle after another, turned Jesus over to be crucified and denied ever knowing him.
Judas and Peter were both left to ponder alone the weight of their actions in the quiet of Holy Saturday. It was a crucible of sorts for their thoughts about past events and how they would shape their future. We have Holy Saturdays of our own all the time when each of us are often left to reflect on things we have done, or neglected to do—ways that we have harmed others and contributed to the destruction of people and things we love. This is where Judas and Peter were.
Judas was trapped by guilt and shame. And despite Jesus’ words that must have echoed in his mind, he lost faith in the hope of Easter. So Judas’ story ended on Holy Saturday.
But Peter’s story kept going on into Easter. After the resurrection he broke bread with Jesus again by a fire on the beach. And while it was a painful moment to revisit his denial with the one he denied, it was also a moment where Peter received the grace of forgiveness and new life in Christ.
Judas and Peter. Two images of brokenness in the light of the cross and the resurrection. Two ways to respond to the hope of new, resurrected life. Which Easter story will you live?