Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
Jesus was in jail awaiting his death sentence and Peter knew he was next. As he tried to warm bones that rattled from deep within his chest, Peter denied having any connection to Jesus. He had been warned that he would do this but he did it anyways, understandably overwhelmed by fear. How often did Peter think about that dark, chilly morning and the conversations he had by the fire? Even in the wake of the resurrection, how much guilt did he and the other disciples carry? How often did they re-live the events of the week and wonder what they could have done so that Jesus didn’t have to die so horrifically?
We know how Judas felt. His guilt so intense he hanged himself before the crucifixion and he learned of the resurrection posthumously. Many if not all of Jesus’ disciples must have suffered from flashbacks, nightmares maybe even depression thinking of ways they could have saved him. Today we know that most people who witness or survive an accident, attack or disaster others didn’t, will experience some level of survivor’s guilt.Questions of why they lived will evolve into feelings thatthey should have been the one to die, oftentimes torturing themselves with thoughts of things they should have done to protect those who weren’t as “lucky”. As we read through the last parts of the gospels and the book of Acts we can see some of this with the disciples, particularly with Peter who seems like he will only be satisfied by his own crucifixion. It didn’t just end with them, I think that remorse has colored our theology in more ways than we are aware.
Made into a joke, guilt is an emotion closely associated with Christianity. “Another nail to pierce the skin of one who loved” is a line often quoted to remind us how our current sins drive the nails deeper into Christ’s hands and feet. This only fuels the survivor’s guilt many of us have theologically inherited and stands in the way of the fresh start offered to us by Jesus. I think we need to deal with the all of the feelings that were experienced in the days of and following holy week, not only the too easy feelings of joy at Christ’s resurrection. According to psychologists, one of the ways people can find healing from survivor’s guilt is by doing something meaningful for someone else. Ironically, we see this in the gospels. It is only because the women go to prepare Jesus’ body that they discover he had risen. If they hadn’t gone to care for him, we would have totally missed the miracle.
This year, as we are again post Easter, perhaps we can make a resolution that we focus less on the guilt we feel or the ways in which we think we are currently contributing to Jesus’ death and instead search for opportunities to care for one another, knowing that ministering to others will change our view from a suffering Jesus on the cross to a radiant Jesus full of life.