Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Peter’s relationship with Jesus is like all relationships. It is deeply complicated, fraught with ambiguity and misunderstanding, with joys both deep and unexpected.
Peter is the one who betrayed Christ, and then--on a shore, by a fire, with some fish Christ was cooking--the one forgiven by Christ. He was the one who got embarrassed when Christ washed his feet. He was the one who got applauded for orthodoxy, telling Jesus he was Christ, and then rebuked for heresy, telling Christ he wasn’t allowed die.
May we have grace to have a relationship with Christ that is just as haunting and complicated.
Now, in this letter to us, he is an apostle-- one of the folks sent by Christ. He, himself, is rather ragged and rough. No frills to speak of. He comes to us only as someone Christ has sent, and armed only with what Christ has said.
And he speaks-- this one summoned, forgiven, confronted, and sent by Christ--to those he calls “elect exiles”: chosen strangers. There is poetry and a symmetry to it: the one sent by Christ speaks to those chosen by Christ. He was forgiven by Christ at a campfire over a plate with some fish, but they’re reputation is just as significant, Christ spilled his blood to have them and Holy Spirit plucked them out of the Sin and Death and set them aside as his little family.
When he calls them chosen strangers he is telling them of all the haunting pain and promise of learning how to live right now—chosen strangers, precious rejects, the claimed orphans, Somebody’s Nobodies. There are, we know, two ages—an age of sin and death, of stubbornness and refusal, of sickness and suffering and Satan run amok, of power and the will to power, of manipulating and using another, an age defined by us and what we want. And then there is the age to come, the one where Christ sets up such irrevocable things as justice and peace, the one where God is at home with his people, the one with God at the center of things, the one where they worship and serve Him all day long.
The phrase “elect exile” will contain and collect all the ambiguity of living between the two, of trying to measure out some kind life, some way to live.
They are the exile of the age that ended at the cross but is still visceral, still here, still with its teeth and claws in things—and the chosen people of the age that began at the cross, and is, somehow, still beginning.
And the grind we feel as one age ends and one age begins—the pull as one age loses and the other wins, the chafing, the friction, the pain and the struggle, is called our life in Christ. And all this done first in our hearts, because Christians are simply those for whom the first age has ended early, and the new age come early. The cross was placed first in dirt outside Jerusalem, but now the cross is our stubborn hearts, in the crucible of the now. Christ putting things to death in the heart first. And the best things, the things that belong to God’s purpose, are not our ideas our interesting plans, but all the beautiful and strange things called out of the tomb of a Crucified heart.
And as, a pastor once told me, the glory of the crucifixion and resurrection must shine deeper, and deeper, each year and each year, into the tomb of the human heart.
Because they do not take turns. Those two ages. Death and Resurrection. The ending of one, the beginning of another. It happens together, in the same moment.
A friend of mine from a bible study at a care home calls me. He’s in his fifties with a mental illness. He lives in a care home.
“John,” he says.
“I’m back,” he says. “I love God.”
He was gone for several weeks because his brother took him into his home. But his brother stole from him and said mean things.
He’s back because he’s been hurt, discarded from the age where might makes right, where the self-interest rules all, the age where we don’t care for our most vulnerable.
You can hear it in his voice, in the way he sounds. The way he’s been hurt.
But he is, also, back at the bible study in the care home, this little fellowship of prayer that meets regularly, with people who read the bible to him, who pray with him. You can hear, too, in the same breath, the brightness in his voice, the brightness of contact, of return, of homecoming.
He is only here, I know, because he has been neglected, used, discarded. Which is pain. But because he is here, I get to hear his voice, see him again. Which is joy. There is an age that is ending, but still so powerful, so painful. And there is an age that is beginning, with what I can only call its own unassailable fragility, this little fellowship, this little gladness. The fact that after all of it we are still here, together, with God anyway. And this, this small bright thing, done with Blood.
Things that bloom because they’re supposed to, things that bloom anyway. Little resurrections, all the beautiful things that crawl out of tombs. I sit in those two ages, sit with those praying, with me on the phone looking up the scripture passage for the day.