Archive for April, 2001
We’ve been back for days now, his friends, his witnesses, his followers. And, me, Peter. Back to the Galilee. Waiting. Twice he walked through strong, Jerusalem walls to half-terrify, half-amaze, half-thrill us. Twice he touched us, twice he breathed real breath on us, spoke over and again his peace into us. And then … nothing. “Third time’s the charm,” we said. But nothing.
All that pain and hurt. Then all that shock and delight and hope and expectation. And now this—this waiting for more. He walked right into our mourning with his wounded hands and his tender touch and then he went and left us waiting. … He IS risen. We know that. He isn’t dead. But still we have lost him—it feels like that. You know that special way a friend speaks, how he holds himself, how he smells, just how he’s here and now and touchable and present and available. To have that ripped from you, then given back, then—you slowly realise—not given back at all. It is all going to be different. And all you want is for it to be the way it was. For him to be the way he was. And he’s not even dead so you can’t mourn. I can’t mourn.
We’ve been trying to bring back the feel of him, the memory of that upper room, we wash each other’s feet and it’s almost like him. We take the bread and bless it, break it the way he did and pass it hand to hand and eat and hope to taste him. And sometimes you do. Or close enough to be brought back to that smoky room, smelling of lamb and fear, where you can hold him for a moment.
But it’s not the same. The room is closed. And this is Galilee. And the waiting is killing me. And I half think we’ve had it. Had the best of him. Seen him dead, then not dead, and God knows where or what he is now. And we, poor fisher folk, are left to make sense of it all. Where’s Judas when you need a theologian!
Well enough of it all. If fish is my business then I’m going fishing. Fish you can trust. Fish don’t go appearing and disappearing when they want. Find the place, cast the net, and let all the old skills bring this battered body back to life.
Cold! This late in the night it is cold to the bones and this little charcoal fire might be singeing my beard but my toes are freezing. Dangling them in the dark waters was not a good idea but I never could resist. Now, Peter never would, fisherman for life and all, but a carpenter will brave any chill to get the dust and shavings from between the toes. There hasn’t been much need of that for a while but it did feel so good to sit there fishing in starlight and shadow, trying to remember the tricks Peter taught me, trying to catch something good for him, for them. I want the best I can manage. “Please, God, let me catch more than minnows!” Well, I must have learned something for here they are—three of them, plump and glistening and eager for the fire. The cleaning I can manage. I watched my mom so many times take that sharp blade and slip it in clean and slit and twist and rinse. There! But I’d forgotten how the scales can cut.
God it is cold! Hm… Dawn is climbing over the hills. Not so long now! Just a little while and they’ll be here. And just as cold as me. With the light on them still silver and sharp. And I want the fish perfect. Seared and succulent. Want the scent of it to lead them to me. No better smell than baking bread and fish a-crackle, dripping and flaring onto the coals. Mmm… I can almost taste it already. The fish flaking between half-burnt fingers, soaking into still-warm bread. A little watered-wine to round it off. Their faces will be something! I can almost see the look—that mix of knowing and unknowing—is he-isn’t he?—should they-shouldn’t they. One of them I can guarantee will know and name me. And Peter, Peter will do something wild and glorious as usual, and the rest, as usual, will follow. A useless bunch one-by-one but together, ah together, they’ll change the world. And I love them. Each. All. Oh man I want this breakfast to be so good. Want the taste to linger on their lips for years. Want it to be how they remember me. Not just pent up in that upper room but out here. Out in the place they love. Out where a lifetime’s work has made land and lake a home. Where they can do what they’ve always done. They think they’ve been waiting for me—but truth be told, they’ve been trying to conjure me, to work me out, to do the right thing to get me back. They want to find me—but I’m here to find them. Now they’ve finally given up finding me.
And not in some upper room—I hated that upper room—but right here, under their noses, at home, plying their trade, playing the fool. And they’ll never know where to expect me next. But I’ll find them. I’ll keep on finding them. Finding them and feeding them. Breaking the bread for them. Having one name me, another rush like a fool to reach me, and all the rest to follow and eat and laugh and sing around the fire, the taste of fish on their lips, all hungers satisfied as they share the broken bread and wine dark as—Here they are! O, Thank you! And look at them! What a sorry bunch of weary kids! God! look at them!
“Children! Have you caught anything to eat?
April 29th, 2001
So I slapped her, I slapped her, and I said, “I’m Peter, I’m the Rock, and I’m the one he left in charge, and I’m having none of this nonsense, especially from an hysterical, old whore like you Magdalene!”
I know—I can hear you gasp—I’m not proud of that. Not one bit. But I’m full up to here with things I’m not proud of these last few days—so what’s one more piled up on top, eh? And it was the last thing we needed, she should have known better, not rushing in here, making all kinds of noise, attracting attention and all, gasping and wailing. “Quiet woman! Do you want us all dead like him!?” But she wouldn’t stop and that’s when I slapped her.
And then … between … gasps … she was … spilling it out. Some story. Body-snatchers: his tomb broken open. Another story, another rumour. Like the idiot spreading the tale that the Master didn’t really die—that we switched bodies. Or that we spirited him down off that filthy cross by magic. I wish we could have done. O God yes! … People just don’t want to admit it. Don’t want to accept it. He’s dead. We failed him. And he’s dead. I failed him. … And he’s dead.
If anyone should know that it’s Magdalene. She saw. She watched. … I … I was … somewhere else … I didn’t see. But I believe it. I believe the blood and the screaming and the sound of nails. I believe the silence. Hell, it’s been silent in here since I heard the news. Echoing silence. Empty silence. Just my own betrayal ringing off the walls of my soul, “I do not know him,” accusing me over and over, nothing else. Hollow.
He was the best man I’ve ever known. He made me hope. He made me laugh. He made me think. … He made me preach! He made me—made me into something, something more than the flaky, foul-mouthed fisherman I was. He made me see, more and more, about rich and poor, about life and death, about love, about his passionate, vulnerable, forgiving, living God.
When I look back and see how I got up that day, emptied out my life for him, upped and followed … like a fool. But he was … special. I do not know—I’ve been saying it over and over—I don’t know why he did what he did these last days. But I never knew him. Why he asked for trouble? Why he walked up and begged for it. But more than that, I don’t know how he did it. How he went through with it. How he expected me to, too. How he didn’t back down. Wouldn’t. Back in Bethany I asked him. I said, “Master, this is stupid. This is pride. This is wrong! Don’t throw it away like this. Bide your time. Maybe next year? Marching into the Holy City right now we’d be like lambs to the slaughter. Why risk it?” And he answered me, he did, light at first, “If this is the Holy City, where could we be safer!?” but then, seeing my frown, slow and serious like he could get sometimes. “How can I un-say what I’ve said, Peter? How can I go back on my word? I don’t want to die, Peter, but better one man dies than God be made a liar.”
I wish I could unsay what I’ve said. Unsay my words. Undo my denials. Do it all over different. Stand by him this time, the one who stood by me. Say it, with love, with pride with relief,: “Yes, I do know him.”
Oh Mary kept on weeping, frantic. And you—you he always loved more than any of us—you were looking at me as if I were … Oh I don’t know! With eyes like his. Not accusing. Not angry. I wish you were. Sorrow? He looked at me like that. Challenge? His eyes could speak bibles in a glance. And forgive a sea of sins. God I wish he could forgive me now. I couldn’t meet your eyes. But I didn’t need to because before I knew it you were off and running. And there I was, the leader, following. Again. Trying to keep up. You and me. Running through the empty streets—curfew crashing around us—and me at any rate panting like an old man—and praying, “Please God don’t let it be true, don’t let us have to go through any more of this, just let it be over, let it be over.”
Panting and praying. And you were out of way ahead. I didn’t catch sight of you until I caught up and found you here. And found out Magdalene was right, the tomb mouth was open, gaping. Mary was right. And you were just standing there. Standing there. Standing there. God I hate it when you get that knowing look that leaves me feeling stupid. But there was the hole in the rock, ahead of me, staring at me, the tomb dark and echoing. And inviting me. And I couldn’t believe it but I was stooping and looking in. The cool darkness calming me, drawing me. Then I was in. Inside. Crossing the threshold like the high priest entering the Holy of Holies. Into the sacred, empty heart of all things. I am inside. And it is empty. Full of emptiness. And my heart is pounding. And I don’t know what to think. But my empty heart is filling up. “Please God let it not be over.” And tears are pouring down my beard like blessings. “Let me have another chance.” And silence, breaking like bread, is on my tongue. “Let me live again.” And emptiness, echoing like love, is forgiving me. And then you are behind me saying, for once, the obvious. “He isn’t here.” And though you are right, for once, you are wrong. I’d know him and his touch anywhere. “No, he is here. And, yes, I do know him.”
April 15th, 2001
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind—and your neighbour as yourself.”
Love! It is almost a love story itself, this little snippet—the scribe with all his hopes intent on Jesus. Jesus himself with that response burning from his opening heart. And then our scribe’s tumbling, wide-eyed, delighted words agreeing, echoing, piling on top of Jesus own. And we can even, perhaps, hear in Jesus’ final affirmation a certain un-looked for awe at what has come to pass between them. Two hearts, two souls, two minds caught up in a single love.
“Yes to love him with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is worth more than any Lenten sacrifice!”
That’s all right for these star-crossed lovers but what of us—we whose desire hardly ever approaches the ardent intensity of the love these two find focused between them—and when our love does manage to flash and flame is it ever un-hedged, impartial, unencumbered, and unashamed? What of us? If Lent is a love story what of us?
And I do mean us. That question is not just about “me and Jesus,” not something private between you and your God. This is about theology. Are we not scribes and scribes in training? Is that scribe’s question not our own—“what is at the heart of all these words, words ,words about God?” This is about theology. This is about the very possibility of theology at all. For when those others, standing by, witnessed the words passing back and forth between Jesus and the scribe … “no one had the courage to ask him any more questions.”
If we don’t know how to love—love God, love Jesus, ourselves, our neighbour—how will we ever find the courage to ask God any more questions? Where will we find the courage to do theology?
April 1st, 2001