The Longest Sabbath — A Story of Failure and Redemption
They gathered together as the grieving are wont to do. The Sabbath was approaching, yet none felt able to face the holy day alone after what had been done to their Lord. Understanding this need, and having loved the Lord himself, Joseph, who was from Arimathea and was a wealthy man, welcomed all who wished to come into his home for the Sabbath. He further went to Pilate and requested the body of the Lord, which he caused to be wrapped in linen and laid in his own new tomb, in which no body had yet ever lain.
The women clustered together, readying spices for the proper burial of the Lord, which would be done the morning following the Sabbath. There was a hushed silence as they worked quickly to get everything set out before sundown. Covert and compassionate glances fell on Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she worked alongside. As Mary’s fingers touched the myrrh that would be used in burying her son, her mind drifted back to another time when gold and myrrh and frankincense were laid at the feet of her newly born babe, gifts brought by men from the east. She had pondered the gifts then with a heaviness in her heart, knowing that, although she was blessed among women, that very blessedness would someday cause her anguish no mother should have to bear. And now the day had come.
Mary’s sister moved silently to her side, comforting her. Salome came and gently took the myrrh from Mary’s hands, moving away. Mary placed her head on her sister’s shoulder, silent tears testifying to her wrenching pain.
John watched helplessly. This woman, the mother of his Lord, had been committed to his care, and yet what comfort could he offer? He himself was grieving, and along with the grief was confusion and uncertainty. He knew not why these things had happened. How could Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Kings, be dead? What were they to do now, these men of faith who had given up all they had to follow Him? John looked about the room, his eyes resting on the disciples of Christ who were gathered together to mourn His death.
There sat Nicodemus, who had helped Joseph put the body of the Lord into the tomb. He had told John and the others that, after the stone was placed in front of the tomb, Pilate had ordered centurions to stand guard over the tomb so that on one could steal the body. And James was here, who had brought with him a tale of the holy veil in the temple being torn right in two at the time of Jesus’s death. The rooms of Joseph’s house were filled with those who loved the Lord.
As the Sabbath proceeded, John watched as the disciples and followers of Christ comforted one another, and he was comforted. There was a drawing together among these men and women, a closeness and a bond that Christ had given them. Surely there was a purpose here, something they were to do. And John, who loved Christ and was beloved by Him, felt renewed in his faith that this was not the end but rather the beginning. He would not lose heart.
The night stretched out endlessly. The prayers were intoned, the meal prepared beforehand by Joseph’s servants was eaten (albeit half heartedly). The followers of Christ rested, as they were commanded; yet few were able to sleep. This Sabbath was the longest they had ever known as they waited for it to be over so that the women could prepare the body of their Lord for burial.
As John wandered about restlessly, he noticed a man set apart in the inner courtyard, sitting alone, his face buried in his hands. John wondered who would choose to be alone on this grievous night and took a step toward the man. Only then did he recognize the clothes and mannerisms. It was Peter.
Approaching him, John saw not only the grief suffered by all who loved Jesus, but something more, something he couldn’t identify. Touching Peter gently on the shoulder, John sat next to him. With a start, Peter jumped up and looked at John, his face contorted with pain and…what else? Something, something else was there.
“John! Go back in and grieve with those who are worthy to grieve for the Lord.”
“Oh, Peter, come. We all loved Him equally; we should share our grief together and comfort one another. Why remain alone in this time?”
Unable to look John in the face, Peter turned away. When he spoke, his voice broke with anguish. “You don’t know. You don’t know what I’ve done. I shouldn’t even be here with you, with any of you!”
“What are you talking about? These past years we have all spent together at the feet of the Lord, and I think in the years to come it will be even more important that we remain of one spirit. Come inside and sit with us.”
“NO! Oh, John, John, how can I be in the same room with you and the others after what I have done?”
“I don’t understand what you are saying, Peter. None of us could have stopped what happened; you did all you could do. This was not your fault.”
Whirling about to face John, Peter shouted, “You know nothing of what I have done! I betrayed Him, John! Just as He knew I would, I betrayed Him!”
John’s mouth fell open, and he stepped back from Peter. “No! T’was Iscariot, that snake! Not you, Peter.”
Peter slumped down on the bench. “Oh, maybe I didn’t betray Him like Judas did; I didn’t turn Him over to be executed! But, John …” Peter looked up with eyes pooled with tears and whispered, “I said I didn’t know Him. I said I wasn’t with Him. Not once, but thrice, I denied that I was His friend. My betrayal was as bad as Iscariot’s. And the worst, the worst thing is, Jesus knew I was going to do it. He told me I was going to do it!”
John sat down next to Peter. He sat quietly, unsure what to say, as Peter wept the bitter tears of pain and remorse. Finally Peter broke the silence.
“And now it’s too late. I can never tell my Lord how sorry I am for what I did. I will go to my grave as a betrayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, rightfully despised among men.”
“Ah, Peter!” John sighed. “You are harsh on yourself. Tell me, friend, if you could see Jesus again, if you had one more chance to speak to Him, what would you say?”
Without hesitation, Peter replied, “I would throw myself at His feet and beg Him to forgive me! I would tell Him how much I love Him, and would pledge to serve Him all my days! I would give my very life for Him!”
“So then, as you would tell the Son, why do you not tell the Father?” John said gently.
Peter looked up, hope for a brief second lighting his eyes. Then he looked again at the ground. “You don’t understand, John. How could you? You and I are very different. You were so close to our Lord, so beloved by Him; you would never have denied His name, not in all eternity. I, though, was so arrogant! I told Him that, though others might fail Him, not I, never I!”
“So you think I am incapable of such error? I tell you, Peter, the only difference between you and me is that I know well how capable I am of failing my Lord, and that knowledge perhaps assists to guard me from that very failure.”
“Yes, and I was proud and arrogant. What am I now? An arrogant failure! Is there anything worse?”
“Not an arrogant failure, Peter — a passionate human. You feel more deeply, you act upon your passions and your emotions, rashly sometimes. How many times have I watched you and wished deep in my heart that I could love the Lord as passionately as you? I admit to you that sometimes I have envied you your passion.”
“You, envy me?! The depth of your love for Him has always been so evident. You are strong, John, and courageous, a rock among the disciples. It is kind of you to speak with me, but I am not worthy of the name of Jesus; go now back to the ones who stand by their Lord.”
“Oh, Peter, desist! Would you wallow in self pity as a swine in mud? Yes, you failed. So what are you going to do with that failure? Will you take the easy way out, as Judas Iscariot is rumored to have done, and hang yourself? Will you spend all your days feeling sorry for yourself because you are not perfect? What do you think Jesus would want you to do, Peter? What good are you to the Kingdom of God if all your days are spent whipping yourself? Come, man, make your peace with God and arise. It is nearly daylight now; see, the women have already left for the tomb. There is much to be done. Are you with us?”
Peter looked up. John was right; he had to choose what he would do with his failure. Judas apparently chose the coward’s way and killed himself; what of Peter? He decided then and there that he would not fail again. He was unworthy, terribly unworthy, but he still loved the Lord with all his heart, and he would serve Him with all his heart. What that might entail he knew not; but he knew he would be faithful now to his Messiah, and in being faithful he would never again be so arrogant as to think he could not fail. Oh, but how he wished for the chance to see the Lord one more time and to beg forgiveness!
Standing, Peter followed John into the house. Suddenly, Mary Magdalene came running breathlessly into the courtyard, followed by Mary, mother of James, and the other women.
“He is gone! The burial cloths were there, but the body of the Lord is gone!” And the women proceeded to tell an incredible tale to the disciples and the others, a tale of angels and miraculous things. And their words were as nonsense to many; yet Peter looked at John, hope alive in his eyes, and John looked at Peter. And the two ran to the tomb.