Sunday, January 20, 2013

death, where's your sting at?

There's an oft-told tale of Jesus and Peter encountering one another on the road to Rome.
Peter is fleeing persecution, and he encounters Christ.
He asks: "Where are you going, Lord?"
Christ responds:
"I am going to Rome to be crucified again"
And then Peter turns tail and returns to Rome to face martyrdom.

I think I often make the mistake of imagining Christ saying, in solemn, sorrowful tones: I am going to Rome to be crucified again.
Which is always my default setting for how I assume Christ talks: boldly, directly, with solemnity and majesty. But I can't help but feel like that's sort of a guilt trip.
Subtext: You blew it again, Peter, and so now I have to go back and DIE again. Great job, bro. Great job.

But then I looked at why Peter was running.
Out of fear of death. Fear of the cross that awaited Him. Christ could definitely sympathize, since He underwent untold agony before undergoing His own death.
But the whole point of Christ's death was to take away the sting of death. The first act of the Resurrection was to crush under its heel the crippling terror of the grave.
There is no need to fear the end of our earthly lives.

And as Peter encounters his Lord, I cannot help but think of Him encountering a Christ full of Joy. Full of laughter and mirth.
Because what has become of Death now?
Death has lost all his power; it's become a laughable tyrant, grasping at all the living; but in the end, all the Living will slip through Death's fingers into Eternal Life.
It's a grand cosmic joke.
It's a delicious, delightful secret that belongs to the whole world.
What is there to fear?

There's that eye-rolling-worthy old cliché of telling actors or public speakers who have stage fright to imagine the audience in their underwear.
The truth that they're trying to get at with that strange little piece of wisdom is that the best way to conquer fear is to find a way to laugh at what you fear.
The best antidote to fear is laughter.

So I can't help but think that the Christ Peter encountered was hustling towards Rome with Joy in every step and radiating from His face. And when He said the line "I am going to Rome to be crucified again," he said that with a laugh and with unquenchable Joy.
What else would he rather be doing than giving Himself again for His flock

As Christ embraces his cross own cross with Joy and love, he is demonstrating how Peter can encounter his own death. As a cross whose burden is light and whose pain is sweet.

What is so beautiful and mysterious about this tale is that we are never told how Peter reacts to the encounter.
I imagine a great hush. That moment when the world pauses as a decision is being made. I imagine that, with a face ashen with fear, Peter grasps the hand of Christ.
As He takes the hand of His Lord, a small, weak smile begins to form, reflecting the Joy of the face before him.
He says: Well then.
And with that, off they go, back to Rome.
Together they walk back, as two friends often do, full of joy that the world cannot dim.
There's no need to fear death when you know you are not alone.