Easter in the good ole days. Do you have favorite Easter memories as a kid? Chocolate bunnies. Jelly beans. Dyed eggs. Easter egg hunts. Church. Festive family meal.
All of these and more come to mind when I think of Easter growing up in our farming community. And of course, we dressed up for Easter church. I adore this photo of me in my frilly, white dress practicing my best Miss America wave (sorry for covering your face, Dad).
When my brothers drove that little car it was yellow-orange. I think my Dad decided to give it a paint upgrade to Girl E White. I suspect Dad refreshed the color and fixed wobbly wheels just in time for this Easter photo
The good ole Easter memories. I miss my mom hiding colorful plastic eggs all around our yard. By elementary school, Dan, Doug and I were quick to remember Mom’s favorite spots to hide the candy-filled eggs. In her tulip bed, inside a gutter downspout and even inside the wheel “spokes” of Dad’s pickup tires.
I am grateful that my parents provided the traditional Easter candies and fun, but also pointed us to the deeper meaning of Easter, that Jesus died but came back to life to prove he has forever power over death. I love that Jesus did not let his story end in a Judean rock tomb. As the classic song goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” I’ll add to that, “and face TODAY too.”
I know I’m not the only one who could use some coming-back-to-life hope. One of the individuals I revere the most in the original Easter story is Peter. Peter, a disciple and close friend of Jesus, stuck around the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. But when asked directly if he was an associate of Jesus, Peter flat out denied even knowing Jesus. Let’s pick up the story in Luke 22:54-62 (NIV).
Turned and Looked
54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
57 But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
58 A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
59 About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
60 Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Not the End of the Story
Peter messed up. He asserted that did not even know this Jesus. Not just once. Or twice. But three times within an hour or so. Fearing for his own life, Peter distanced himself from his loyal leader. Then moments later, he sobbed in disgrace.
Honestly, I could have been right there with Peter. “Nope. Don’t know the guy. My friends and I don’t hang with that dude.” It’s amazing how fear and fatigue can trigger our self-preservation instincts.
But right in the middle of this disheartened scene, Scripture shares a poignant moment. “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Jesus’ eyes met Peter’s. No words were needed.
Peter knew instantly that he messed up. I imagine Jesus “looked straight” at his friend with loving compassion and forgiveness. With the same compassion and forgiveness for those who beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to a criminal’s cross.
Just as Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end of the story, this is not the end of the story for Peter either. Or us. There’s another small, but significant conversation earlier in Luke 22:31-34 in which Jesus foretells Peter’s denial.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
33 But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Turned Back Around
The part of this dialogue that I appreciate the most is Jesus reassuring Peter “and when you have turned back.” In other words, Peter you are going to disown me for a bit, but WHEN (not IF) you turn around and get back on track with me, I want you to encourage others. I love you and you’re still my son and will always be. I bet my life on it.”
To me that is the heartbeat of the Easter story. We mess up and Jesus has already cleaned up our mess. He knows us so specifically including whether we like cream-filled Easter eggs or green bean casserole. He knows where all the Easter eggs are hidden. He knows the precise color of the play cars we drove and every Easter outfit we’ve ever worn.
Nothing gets past our Creator. He sees and longs for us to get and stay “turned back” around. Peter learned this. I’m learning this. I’m thinking you’re learning this too.