Monday, March 20
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
As a kid playing “Church” with my brother Pete, this passage of Peter denying Jesus—three times!—provided great material: the observant servant-girls and bystanders; Peter’s escalating denials abundant with mendacity, cowardice and fear (and curses and oaths!); both Jesus’s prophecy about—and the “sound effect” of—the crowing rooster; the drama of Peter’s “wake up” crow and bitter weeping. Pete and I could sink our teeth into this.
Pete was the Pastor, I was the Organist. The “organ” was an end table (the one that held The Holy Bible, The Lutheran Hymnal engraved with our mom’s name and confirmation year, and a current “Portals of Prayer”) with the drawer pulled out. I would pretend that open drawer was a keyboard and would hum the notes of Lenten hymns.
Though generally well behaved, Pete and I could identify with Peter: “getting caught” and trying to weasel out of it. But we also imagined that we would have the fortitude, if not the first time challenged by a servant-girl then certainly the second, to say as we’d been taught Martin Luther had said in Worms in a rather different context, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” And we had verse 13 of Hymn (TLH) 143, “Oh Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken” to guide us:
Whate’er of earthly good this life may grant me,
I’ll risk for Thee; no shame, no cross, shall daunt me.
I shall not fear what man can do to harm me
Nor death alarm me.
Peter may have been afraid—for his life, even—and mishandled the situation, but we would surely do better.
It took about three decades before I realized that I habitually activated my own denials time and time again. How many times did I fail to mention, to avoid “getting into it” or “embarrassing” myself, that I hoped for a later Sunday brunch or lunch time with friends because I was going to Mass, or that I had a meeting at my church on a given night and hoped for a rain-check? How many times did I miss the opportunity to stand up, and say, “Here I am, with Jesus!” Where’s the witness in that? Aren’t these denials, too? It was during Lent at Holy Trinity, years ago, when my ear finally tuned to hear that cock crow—for me. I hope—and pray—I am doing better.
Let us pray…Dear Lord Jesus, I’ll risk for Thee; no shame, no cross, shall daunt me. In Your Name, I pray. Amen.