On Easter Sunday afternoon, I had dinner with some friends of mine and their extended family. The adults in the group had planned an Easter Egg hunt for the younger children; one of the adults dressed in an Easter Bunny costume for the occasion.
Most of the children were very happy to see the Easter Bunny, but one four-year-old was not; he stayed at a distance, had a frightened look on his face, and wouldn’t respond to the Easter Bunny’s greeting. After the Easter Bunny left, a few of us asked the one, frightened child why he hadn’t spoken to the Easter Bunny. The boy exclaimed with disgust, “He had a mustache!” The bunny costume had whiskers that looked like big, fuzzy pipe cleaners. The child was frightened by the fake bunny whiskers; the adults in the group tried not to laugh. Fortunately for the child, his fear of the giant whiskers didn’t prevent him from amassing quite a haul of candy-filled Easter Eggs.
I was reminded of that event when I read today’s Gospel. This event in John’s Gospel represents Jesus’ rehabilitation of Peter. Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus; Jesus allowed him the opportunity to abrogate each of the three denials by making three professions of devotion. Peter was no rock during Jesus’ trial and execution, but he became one later in life when he witnessed to his faith in martyrdom.
Peter, of course, was not the only apostle to betray Jesus; Judas also betrayed him. Although Judas has a bad reputation and Peter has a good one, it’s difficult to know which betrayal was worse. Judas both acknowledged Jesus publicly and later confessed his sin (Mt. 27:34); Peter did neither.
Why, then, do we consider Peter a faithful apostle and Judas a betrayer? I’d like to suggest that the difference was made not by the two men’s actions but by their attitudes. Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus, but Peter was not afraid to return to Jesus’ company. Peter did not shy away from the community of disciples to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, but Judas remained absent. The difference between the two was that Peter chose to trust while Judas chose to fear.
Recently, a social commentator referred to our present historical era as an “age of anxiety.” It’s an apt description. The rich and poor alike are anxious. The powerful worry as much as the powerless do. Democratic governments stress about their economies as much as dictatorial governments stress about their economies. The minds of automobile drivers and pedestrians are preoccupied with worry, sometimes to their mutual detriment.
Everyone thinks that they have good reason to worry, but worry remains a liability in every instance. Judas worried about returning to Jesus, and his worry kept him alienated from God. Peter trusted in Jesus’ forbearance and found communion both with his peers and with God. Every Sunday when we gather for Eucharist, we celebrate the trust of the first disciples. Our Eucharistic worship is an act of faith in the God who forgives every repentant sinner. Our participation in this act of worship is an affirmation of trust that God can redeem every evil, even betrayal of Jesus.
The lack of trust exhibited by the young child who was afraid of the Easter Bunny excluded that child from much of the enjoyment experienced by his peers during the Easter Egg hunt; this was a minor loss that will have no lasting consequences in this child’s life. The widespread lack of trust in our society, on the other hand, has permanent consequences because a life of worry and anxiety excludes one from both the enjoyment of knowing and loving God and the joys of living in human society.
At our Sunday celebration of Eucharist, we renew our commitment to our Baptismal faith in God’s forgiveness. There are some scary things and scary people in the world, but nothing is as frightening as a life without faith. Likewise, there is nothing as detrimental to faith as living in fear and anxiety. The only real difference between Peter and Judas was the commitment that ruled their respective lives. Judas’ life was ruled by fear, while Peter’s life was ruled by trust. Both men’s lives ended in a way that accorded with their expectations.
In our reception of Eucharist today, we have the opportunity to choose trust over fear. Your choice about how you live today is also a choice about eternity. Both Judas and Peter had compelling reasons for the choices they made, but only Peter made the right choice.