I looked up into the clouds. He had been there a minute ago. And now he was gone.
This was not an experience I ever thought I would have; watching a friend disappear into the sky. But then, I never thought I’d have a friend who would walk on the waves, quiet a storm, or bring a dead man back to life either.
Jesus was not an ordinary friend; not an ordinary teacher; not an ordinary man.
Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. I’d said it myself, when asked. And he praised me for it.
So why had I turned my back on him when he needed me most?
He’d just been arrested. Judas, that traitor, had betrayed him to the chief priest, whose men had come with torches and clubs to take Jesus away. To be fair, I was willing to do my bit then. I waved my sword about. I cut off a man’s ear. But when Jesus put that ear back on again, it was pretty clear he didn’t approve.
Everyone else ran, terrified, but I followed Jesus. And while the religious leaders questioned him, I waited in the courtyard.
And that’s when it started. The pointing. The whispering. I thought I would be able to handle it, but it was all so frightening.
Jesus hadn’t defended himself. He’d just gone with the men. So it didn’t seem likely that he would defend me either.
And that’s why I panicked when the accusations started:
“I saw you with him.”
“You’re one of his followers.”
“It’s your accent that gives you away.”
And, yes, all of that was true. They had me dead to rights, so all I could think to do was deny it.
“No, I wasn’t with him.”
“No, I’m not his follower.”
“No, I never knew him!”
And, in doing so, I denied him. My amazing friend and teacher, who I walked with on the Sea of Galilee and ate with when he fed a multitude from a boy’s lunch.
I denied him, just as he said I would. Three times before the cock crowed.
And then I ran. And then I cried. And then he died.
And that was that.
No chance to say I was sorry.; No opportunity to make it right.
Or so I thought.
Three days later, some of the women in our group came running to us with the most extraordinary news. Jesus’ tomb was empty.
We didn’t believe them at first, so John and I went to check. They were right. Then, when Jesus came to see us later that day, there was no doubt. He was, indeed, alive.
And even though I was as amazed and excited and overwhelmed as anyone in our group, there was still that thing I needed to deal with. That thing I had yet to say sorry for. That thing that just sort of lingered there between us.
I was afraid to bring it up, I guess. Or ashamed. Or uncomfortable. Probably all of that, and more. So he did it for me.
We were out fishing one morning and someone was cooking breakfast on the shore. When I realised it was Jesus, I leapt into the water and splashed my way over to him. I loved being with him. I wanted to deal with the thing. Maybe this was my chance. But then...but then...I didn’t.
And that’s when he asked me the strangest question.
“Do you love me?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Then feed my sheep,” he replied.
It was not what I expected to hear. Feed my sheep. What did he mean? Would that somehow prove my love?
Then he asked me again.
“Do you love me?”
And again I said that I did.
Once more, he said: “Feed my sheep.”
When it happened a third time, I was truly puzzled.
I answered once.Did he not believe me?
I answered twice. Had I not been clear?
I answered a third time. And then I realised.
A third time. In the early morning. Like that third time I had denied him and the cock crowed.
That’s what this was about. The chance I had been looking for. To say, three times, that I was sorry.
And the chance he had been looking for. To say, three times, that he trusted me enough to put his sheep, his followers, into my hands.
And that’s why I could look up that day when he rose into the sky. I could look up and say goodbye to my friend, confident that all was right between us. Confident that when I saw him again – as he promised I would one day – that that there would be nothing but joy in that reunion.