Even on this side of Easter, forgiveness is no easy thing.
Christ said so much during a beachside breakfast with his friends on a lake not long after the remarkable events of Easter weekend.
He did this during that rather poignant exchange with Peter, that friend of urgency and largeness who, just days earlier, while outside of Jesus’ kangaroo trial, had denied he even knew the man. Three times.
Some friend. What do you think? You have a trial of your own to look forward to, Mr. Millard. What would you like your friends to say? The truth? Or something easier?
Anyway, as the account goes, at the beach, Jesus — already crucified and resurrected — had made this strange and unexpected breakfast visit. And now he wants to talk about you-know-what with Peter.
You know the talk will be both peaceful and ferocious, something like being ripped open by a lion, a most awful yet gentle ripping open, the most gentle that anyone could ever experience.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter. Then again: “Do you love me?” Then again, “Do you love me?”
Each time Peter said yes, each stroke cutting him deeper than the last. Each time Jesus then told Peter to take care of his flock, those who, as Jesus put it, hear and know his voice. Three times.
It had to be three times, I suppose, so that poor Peter knew that he had a forgiveness that was unique just to him, in the precise shape and form that he needed.
This isn’t to say that forgiveness is easy pickings, Mr. Millard. I’m saying something else, that forgiveness – that is the real deal, the stuff that no amount of money could ever buy – is, in fact, very hard to find. Almost impossible, really. And just as hard to give.
I’m saying forgiveness can be like life itself, like a vapour, a mist, here today and gone tomorrow.
Do you think of these things, Mr. Millard, how short life is, how easy it is for anyone to fall into the land of the dead, like a man who turns a corner and falls unaware into a manhole?
Look, for example, at those five lives lost in Calgary. Do you get the papers there, in your jail cell, Mr. Millard? I can tell you they were five fine young people with the world ahead of them. And how in God’s name will those families ever be able to forgive?
But this breakfast at the beach. What do you make of it? What can anyone make of such a strange meeting?
Can you picture Jesus’ friends looking at each other in stupefied amazement as their Lord swallows some fish – apparently he had gathered the wood and fried the fish himself – and then laugh at what is, more than anything, his own joke?
I like the story so much that on Easter Sunday morning, with the monkeys running and clanking around our African house like they often do, I read it to my children.
And interestingly enough, now as I write, my children and my wife and I are all at another beach, here in Uganda, on Lake Victoria, where the children especially like to bury themselves in the sand. Like they’re dead.
In all this, two things come to mind. One is that, sooner or later — like you or myself or anyone, really — each of my children will need to receive forgiveness. And each will need to give it. And if they’re successful, it will cost everything they have. But even that, somehow, won’t be enough.
By the way, not far from this Ugandan beach, bodies from some distance away once washed up. It was during that horrendous spring 20 years ago, when evil reigned next-door, in Rwanda, when there were just too many bodies there to hold.
Have you ever held a body, Mr. Millard? I’m just asking. It’s a terrible thing, a sobering thing, to look close at a human body that is no longer breathing, no longer pumping red blood inside. And isn’t it funny that one body, one death up close and personal, can be even more sobering than a million?
I’m just saying, what if the Easter story is actually true? I mean, what if that one body – cold as the stone that held it in its place – actually rose?
And what if that dead man walking, so to speak, walked into the Sunday sunshine and showed himself, over and over in the coming days, to large groups and small alike, and had a good time with it all – even at an early morning breakfast with his friends – before eventually ascending to God knows where?
Even you Mr. Millard, would have to admit, that would be a body like no other, one anyone would want to have a close look at.
I’m just thinking aloud about it. I hope you don’t mind. My kids burying themselves in the sand have got me on to it. This is what kids can do in your life.
In either case, I hope you had a memorable Easter, Mr. Millard. It really is a fine day to feast.
Until next time,
A Fatherly Friend