Peter represents the Church

Happy Easter! While Jesus is the main focus of the Easter liturgies, I was surprised to notice how much Peter is mentioned. I have attended these liturgies for several decades, yet this year it was almost like a spotlight was on Peter and his participation in the events.

During the Gospel for Holy Thursday, I must admit that I was amused at Peter’s response to Jesus about washing his feet. It really sounded like something I would say, going from one extreme (of not being washed) to the other (of washing more than just the feet). I think it’s a very human trait to see things as “all or nothing.” Yet God goes beyond our human thinking to what really matters. Anyone who has visited Israel knows that even in today’s modern age with motorized transportation, our feet seem to be magnets for the dust of the area. Yet after a long, tiring day of travel, if one just washes their feet, one feels like a whole new person who can travel for another eight hours. In ancient times the task of washing another’s feet fell to the lowest class of people: the servants and slaves. Even after spending three years with Jesus, Peter still didn’t understand that Jesus was teaching by example: those who want to follow Jesus must become servants to others.

Peter’s declaration to never abandon Jesus is the next example of how Peter’s responses are very much like the humanity of the Church. From the top all the way down to the laity, the Church is made of imperfect people trying their best to have a relationship with God and do His will in their earthly life. Sometimes we do well, but more often than we care to admit, we stumble and fall. Peter does try to follow Jesus, even if it is under a guise of blending in with the crowd. Perhaps Peter had to go through this experience in order to be bold enough to proclaim Jesus after the resurrection. While it is unfortunate that Peter’s betrayal kept him from following Jesus to the crucifixion, he is the only other Apostle besides John that the Gospels indicate followed Jesus after his arrest. 

Peter’s response to the women’s strange story illustrates the bond he had with Jesus. How many of us, after denying knowing a friend who has been unjustly arrested and killed, would run to their tomb after hearing that the person has been raised from the dead? Wouldn’t we rather hide from that person? But Peter took action: he ran to the tomb. He may not have understood what he saw, but he did go in search of Jesus. Despite our imperfections and failings, this is what the Church is all about: to take action by seeking Jesus first, putting all our energies and effort into the search. We, like Peter, may not fully understand what when faced with our own versions of the burial cloths at the empty tomb, but we, like Peter, know things are different and will never be the same. We are changed by our relationship with Jesus.

Though we ask for more than we need and are likely to stumble and fall, if we continue to seek God, He will give us what we need, when we need it and is ready for us in His merciful love. Jesus continues to teach by example by illustrating who we are called to be through Peter’s representation during the most sacred liturgies of the year. 

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