‘In the early morning,’ ‘before the sun had risen,’ ‘while it was still dark’: these phrases capture something of the mystery of the Resurrection. In the half-light only the eyes of faith see clearly. Is it any wonder, then, that St Mary Magdalene is the ‘apostle to the apostles’, that, through eyes washed clean with tears, she saw the Lord? Throughout Holy Week our attention has been focused on the terrible duel between good and evil and on those who surround Jesus with menace or sheer misunderstanding: Judas, Caiphas, Pilate, Peter. It has been a very male business, but now the women edge into the picture. They stood by the Cross, they anointed Jesus’ dead body and now they proclaim the Resurrection. Peter’s momentary failure will be forgiven; the disciples will be transformed by the gift of the Holy Spirit; and all our own sin and failure will be swallowed up by the empty tomb. Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia!
One of the things that makes me chuckle, when it does not make me weep, is the certainty some people have that they know what God thinks. The second reading at Mass today should disabuse us of any such foolish notion:
How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen. (Romans 11. 33–36)
In those few sentences I think St Paul captures the essence of God’s otherness, his utter transcendence. The trouble is, we do not like being reminded of our own limitations. We exalt reason as a God-given gift, then forget that it is a gift, and one that will take us only so far. St Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi has come down to us as a neat theological encapsulation of Jesus’ divine nature and salvific mission, but the evangelist uses the simplest of words, words that might well have sprung from the lips of a Galilean fisherman who grasped intuitively what most of us struggle all our lives to understand: Jesus is our Saviour, the Word made flesh, Son of the living God. We can only wonder and give thanks.
Having spent the morning shopping for bathroom fittings, I have a better claim to critique the interior decor of superstores than I have to blog about two such supersaints as Peter and Paul. However, a thought struck me at Vigils which may be worth pursuing. The word ‘flawsome’ doesn’t exist, but ought to. It conveys exactly what Peter and Paul were: flawed, but awesome.
Take Peter, dear hot-headed, wobbly Peter, always saying the wrong thing and not very brave when confronted by the maid in Pilate’s palace yard. Who would choose him to be head of the infant Church? He wasn’t an administrator; he wasn’t a particularly deep thinker; nothing in his former life suggested he would be a good leader. He knew about fish and family life, and that seems to have been enough for the Lord, who called him to be a fisher of souls, to pour all his love and devotion into the work of service. There is something tremendously encouraging about Peter. He didn’t change, as far as we know; he was still inclined to get muddled when confronted with eloquent men like Paul, but he saw clearly with his heart, welcomed gentiles into the Church, acknowledged that nothing God had made could ever be unclean and ultimately, when put to the test, met death bravely.
Then there is Paul, bald-headed, argumentative, a stickler for detail, determined to root out Christian heresy. Who would choose him to preach the gospel to the gentiles, to travel thousands of miles to win people to Christ? Yet the Lord did. Paul left behind not only his old name and his theological and philosophical certainties, he accepted a way of life that would once have shocked him with its lack of conformity to the rules of Kasrut, becoming someone able to acknowledge his own weakness, unafraid of saying how much he loved the children of God. He didn’t stop being a man of great learning; he continued to enjoy arguing and tripping up his opponents when he could, but now it was no longer Saul who was centre stage but Christ in him. Paul too is tremendously encouraging, and like Peter, showed real courage when he was put to death.
So, flawed but awesome both. May SS Peter and Paul pray for us who are mainly just flawed.