Over the last couple of years, I’ve found the lens of friendship to be one way to deepen my understanding of the Easter story. I even tried to articulate it in my Easter talk for chapel a couple of weeks ago. From the “last straw” of Lazarus’ resuscitation to the sleeping inner core of Jesus’ group, from the betrayal of Judas and the denials of Peter to the giving of Mary to to John, the final stories of Easter are full with the stuff of real relationships. So I was glad to see Peter Leithart at First Things do the same, particularly in contrast to the regular emphasis on the torture, trial, and death of Jesus. In his recent post titled “Apostles Dead and Risen”:
Edifying as these meditations may be, they don’t represent the focus of the canonical Gospels, which emphasize Christ’s “relational” anguish more than his physical suffering. He comes to his own people, but they prefer Caesar to their heavenly king. For three years, Jesus and his disciples travel together, preach together, heal and exorcise demons together. They share meals, and in private Jesus teaches them the secrets of the kingdom. But at the climax of the mission, the disciples scatter. Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, and the other ten disciples scamper away at the first sign of danger. Because they defy his exhortations to “take up your cross and follow,” Jesus goes to the cross alone.
This reminds us of the fuller sense of what Henri Blocher calls “the utter evilness of evil” that Jesus experiences in his death: it’s not just physical and spiritual, it is also personal. Very personal. But Leithart reminds us that with Easter, death does not have the final say. In his essay, Leithart traces the final things (not) said and (not) done by the disciples in the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday stories. And he brings things back around with Easter Sunday.
John alone records how the Twelve are re-individualized, reactivated, and reconciled. John is the only Evangelist to inform us that one of the Twelve, the “Beloved Disciple,” is at the cross (19:25–27). John alone writes of Peter’s race with the Beloved Disciple to the empty tomb (20:1–10) and Thomas’s doubts (20:19–29). He alone records the inexpressibly lovely scene when Jesus restores Peter as table companion and shepherd at a seaside breakfast around a charcoal fire (21:1–17).
And then he ends with an almost-nod to a Rich Mullins song and a real sense that Easter brings life back to many things.
Jesus is made of no reputation; he is silent as a lamb before his accusers. Through Jesus’s trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, the Twelve are also nameless and speechless, and through three Gospels they remain anonymous and silent right to the end. But they don’t remain so. The fourfold Gospel announces the good news that betrayers become shepherds, the nameless receive names, the silent are given speech. The fourfold Gospel proclaims not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also the resurrection of the apostles, foundation stones on which Jesus builds his church.
The essay dovetailed nicely with today’s reading from John 16. As Jesus gets closer to his arrest in John’s Gospel, he’s having to work through the disciples’ inability to understand what he is trying to communicate his coming and going, his death and resurrection.
19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
The “before” of Easter is a thing of sadness and sorrow, rooted in confusion and loss. And it’s almost like all of the confusion of the last three years has come to a head in this moment. But with the resurrection? with the seeing of Jesus on the other side of the tomb? Then their hearts will rejoice in a way that no one will ever be able to take away (for to have seen the resurrected Jesus would realign everything for them. And in that day, they will ask nothing because they will see all that they need to see. And when they do ask, their requests will have been shaped by the most true reality of all. And in that asking and receiving, the joy of that resurrection moment will be renewed. It is as if until they see Jesus again, they will not realize that they haven’t known what to say or do or ask the whole time. But once they have seen him, once God has done his work through Easter Sunday, they will know and will have been shot through with joy, will have joy (re)defined for them. And it will change everything.