Lent 4C, Sunday March 14, 2010.
Sounds of the Passion
Rev. James E. Butler, D.Min., pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Springfield, Massachusetts
Friends, if anyone ever knew what it is like to be welcomed and loved despite his deep wrong and shame, it was that wayward son in that story Jesus told before – the parable of the prodigal son. Without hesitation or limitation, the Father embraced his son in all the son’s deep sin, with all the hurt it caused and shame he had brought.
Despite this great wrong committed by this wayward young man, the Father loves, accepts and embraces the pain. Oh, that we would experience our heavenly Father this way….
As we reflect on Easter and the events leading to it, we hear of a real-life prodigal son returning to the prodigious love of God. His name is Peter…
When confronted with being identified with Jesus, “Peter replied, ‘Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times’” (Lk 22:60–61).
Peter is fascinating and complex. He’s loud and brash. He speaks his mind. He often leaps before he looks. He’s capable of tremendous insight and yet two seconds later can put both feet in his mouth. One moment he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; the next he tries to keep Jesus from going to the cross. One moment he says he doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet; the next he’s wanting a complete bath. That’s Peter—wonderful heights of insight and intellect or falling flat on his face in front of everyone.
Nowhere are Peter’s contradictions more obvious than during Jesus’ passion. There we see Peter, brash and bold, treading recklessly where others fear to walk. And yet so quickly, at another moment, his feet turn to clay, and he falters before those around him.
The night begins during the Last Supper. The disciples must have known that something special was happening that night, but they probably didn’t understand exactly what. Jesus talked about sorrow, worry, betrayal, and death. They must have been confused, even troubled. They sang the final psalm of the Passover and walked to the Mount of Olives.
As they were going out of the city, Jesus told them, “This very night, you will all fall away” (Mt 26:31). They would all leave him, each hiding in his own way. Peter says, “No way!” He loved his Teacher and friend, and he was never, ever going to fall away from him. “No, Lord!” he bellowed. “Everyone else may fall away, but I will never fall away. Even if I have to die with you, I’ll never leave you!” There it is—classic Peter, bold, brash, loud, and confident. The others might let Jesus down, but he never would.
“Peter, tonight, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you know me.” Peter must have been stung. How could Jesus ever say such a thing? Didn’t Jesus know Peter? The others might leave, but Peter would never leave. He protested with all his vigour: “Never, Lord! I’ll never leave you! Even if I have to die with you, I’ll never deny you!” Jesus must have smiled back, gently but knowingly.
They continued up the mountain, going into the garden. Jesus took Peter, and the two close others; James, and John. Jesus asked them to pray with him, to stay with him. Oh, they really wanted to. But sleep overtook them.
“Peter, wake up! Here comes my betrayer now!” interrupts Jesus. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Peter’s mind was foggy. Then he heard what Jesus was talking about—the sound of an angry mob coming up the mountain. It was a small army of men with swords, spears, and clubs. And leading the crowd was Judas Iscariot. Yes, Jesus had told them that Judas would betray him, but actually seeing it . . . Well, that was something else again!
Anger!—Judas’ kiss. The swords of the temple guard, the spears of the Roman army. Peter couldn’t just stand there and do nothing, could he? Then he remembered the short sword he’d packed that night. Pulling the sword out of its scabbard, Peter ran forward in some sort of confused protective defense of the man who meant everything to him. Peter missed. He managed to cut off an ear, which at least drew some blood.
“Peter!” called Jesus. “Put that thing away! The Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed it.
Peter took a step back and thought about what he’d done. What had he been thinking, pulling a sword against a contingent of soldiers? Did he have a death wish? Was he crazy? He didn’t know; he just ran. He was scared to death and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
I wonder what Peter would have done had he known what lay ahead. He was truly torn. On the one hand, he wanted to be close to his Lord. He loved the man. On the other hand, he was scared to death. He had threatened to attack a group of Romans. He was a dead man now. But he wanted to be close to Jesus. He would go with John. If he pulled up his cloak and stayed in the background, he could probably get away with it.
No sooner did he walk into the courtyard, than he was recognized. “You, you were with him too!” said the girl who opened the courtyard gate. What could Peter do? He’d been spotted. Could he pretend to be someone else? He hardly had a moment to think. “No, that wasn’t me,” he said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
It was cold. Peter hadn’t noticed it before. Now he felt a cold sweat. He was freezing. Someone had built a fire.
Pulling his cloak over him, he walked over to the fire to warm himself. Immediately the accusations started again. Another servant girl looked closely at him: “You were with that man, Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I don’t know him,” Peter declared. “I’ve never met the man.” He walked away.
But the inquisitors were not satisfied. “He is one of them! I know he is!” someone insisted. “Yeah, he’s one of them! Can’t you hear that accent? He’s from Galilee!” “I know he’s one of them! He was the guy who cut off my cousin’s ear!”
Peter was scared to death. What could he say? Summoning up all the courage he had left inside, he began to scream. I DO NOT KNOW THE MAN!” And again the rooster crowed.
Friends, in comfortable 2010 coastal dwelling, we think we have it all figured out. No way will we be “unchristian”. No way would we sell out on Jesus. Others might fall away from worshipping Jesus, serving people in his name, loving in his name, but we never will. We’ll stay close to Jesus! Even if everyone else falls away, we will never fall away!
Oh, but we know the truth. We know Peter well. Maybe that is why we can relate to him so well. He is just like us and we are just like him. The spirit may be willing at times, but the flesh is so, so weak!
We are meant to stay with him. We are meant to stand up for the weak and show them who he is. We are meant to love like he does. We are meant to shine in darkness. We are called to love the unlovely. We are called to pray for peace and work for justice. We are given the gift of grace of God to be grace to others. But somehow, we are so often overtaken with ourselves.
This week, I heard about a man who is deliberately charging poverty stricken indigenous people extra interest in their small loans they take seek from him somewhere in our North West. The money is most often used by these people to make child care payments. It has been recommended that this man’s business be shut down. Here, here, I say. We are called to act justly, seek wisdom and walk humbly with our God. But will we act in love. Will we actually say something and do something?
Thank God that something happens to make us aware of our actions. A rooster crows; someone calls for help; and something we’ve learned before comes back to mind. We hear this Easter suffering of Jesus and we remember what we are here for – to be loved with a love beyond all loves; to love beyond all loves; to suffer with those who suffer.; to give up the comforts this life affords and place ourselves and our possessions in the service of the Suffering Servant who serves us and all who need serving. Bitter tears of regret and the pleas for God’s forgiveness and renewal should be no be a stranger to us who have it so good. .
THE CROWING OF THE ROOSTER IS GOD’S GRACIOUS WAKE-UP CALL TO US!
The rooster crows and we are set on another course. Is that why Jesus told Peter beforehand about the rooster crow? Was it give Peter a marker in his most confused and darkest moment? I think so. The rooster crow is God still speaking. God is still in touch. This suffering of this divine man has something to do with me. He sends the call to me. I am still his. He is still mine. We are still living this journey of life and faith together in this community. He is waking me up again as woke Peter up and gave him markers to find his balance and his Lord again after his great fall. Jesus is still wanting the best of me and forgiving the worst of me. His cross is still alive. I am still alive because of it.
Take the cross, people. Look at it. Bury yourself in it this Easter.Don’t look away. Don’t run away for its ugliness. Gaze at him in all his unattractiveness and seeming weakness. The cross is the power of the Divine to shift the world – to shift us.
Enter into this Easter. Delve into the depths of his suffering love. We do not have to hide. We don’t not have to pretend. He can take our worst and restore us to our best. The cross is his best and mine. We live because he lives. We rise above the suffering because he lives in the suffering.
The rooster crow is no longer our shame. It is his love. He is marking our way back to him. Amen