In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
“And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter was not a cowardly man. He told Jesus that he was willing to go to prison or even die for Jesus. And he proves that he was indeed willing when he brought a sword to the Garden of Gethsemane and when the guards who came out to capture Jesus laid hands on Jesus, Peter drew a sword that he had concealed in his clothes and tried to decapitate the offender. And he would have been successful too, but he was a fisherman versus a trained soldier who ducked the blow—though at the cost of his ear.
Right then a war had erupted—the first blood had been shed and Peter’s life was about to be forfeit however well-meaning he was. But Jesus stepped in and put a stop to the madness. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” And then he healed the man’s ear simultaneously averting Peter’s war and causing Peter to lose all that courage that he mustered two minutes prior.
Peter’s world had been turned upside down. He thought he knew what Jesus was about—the overthrowing of the Roman government and re-establishing of Jewish rule only to find out that he had no clue. This is why I think in Mark’s Gospel (essentially Peter’s memoirs) the disciples come off as bumbling idiots who never get it. I think it is because of this moment—the blood freshly on the ground from Peter’s heroic slash only to be thwarted by the very man he was trying to protect. So Peter fled because he absolutely no clue what he was doing there—and the rest of the disciples followed.
It is no wonder Peter denied Jesus the three times. He was being very honest—he really DIDN’T know who Jesus was. Why did Peter go back after fleeing? Because he approached Jesus with fresh eyes, he was curious about just what in the world he meant. And when the cock crowed Peter remembered what Jesus predicted and it broke his heart. Jesus had known him down to his very nature—he knew that Peter didn’t understand what he meant about his Kingdom—and Peter never got who Jesus was even though he was supposed to be Jesus’ best friend. He believed that he was following exactly what Jesus was saying, but he had no clue.
Jesus was then led away to the cross and died there just like so many other wannabe messiahs. So Peter was left broken hearted and rudderless, and the only man who could remedy the situation and provide the answers he sought was silenced forever.
As we know this wasn’t the case, but Peter is just like many before him who devoutly followed God but never saw the end that they expected. Israel was in slavery in Egypt—not ideal. Israel was a loose confederation that was constantly being oppressed by their neighbors—no. Israel finally united and formed their own kingdom—only to have it break apart with in two generations of its formation. And then it was taken over by the Assyrians. And then the Babylonians. The Persians. The Greeks. And then the Romans. No one ever saw the promises of God fulfilled in the way they thought it should be. And they all died with this regret.
But when Jesus died, he went down to the place of the dead—Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek, hell by the Apostles’ Creed because they were deprived of the vision of the God they followed in life —and preached the good news to them. Jesus was able to bring about the realization of the promises of God to those who went before. Being God, he brought them that which they had been denied in life—they saw God and he came to them with Good News—release to the captives—new life to the dead.
This was, of course, unbeknownst to Peter—Peter the hopeless. But then on Sunday morning, early in the morning, having finished his mission of giving life to the dead, just rose and proceeds to give life to the living. Notice with what haste Peter sprints to investigate the claims of Mary Magdalene, and with what courage he investigates the empty tomb. And then witness his joy as Jesus appears to the disciples and opens their minds to all that had taken place.
And then experience the inner struggle of Peter. The man who denied Jesus three times. He is joyous about Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, but ashamed at his own actions and at his own blindness. But Jesus then shows him the same comfort he showed to all those who came before Peter and restored him. Three times Peter denied Jesus—three times Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to confess his love—and don’t think for a second that he didn’t understand the significance of the three times, because he was grieved because Jesus asked him the same question three times. He knew. And then Jesus again gives Peter the command that Peter received at the beginning of their time together: Follow me.
Peter is the living embodiment of the mission of Jesus on Saturday, and I think it is no coincidence that it is in Peter’s letter that we find evidence of Jesus’ Harrowing of Hell. I think this had a tremendous impact on him and his future ministry—a ministry which is then passed on to us through him and the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”
And then he gives Peter one last comfort, and again it is directed to us all, “And lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peter now has all the strength and courage he will ever need, because now he knows without a doubt that he will never be parted from his Lord again.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.