The Vicar writes...
Every Holy Week and Easter I find it helpful to look at the events we are celebrating through the eyes of one of the key participants. In the past I’ve focussed on the experience of St Mary of Magdala, St John, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Thomas. This year I’m back with St. Peter.
Simon had been appointed the leader of the twelve and given the nickname ‘Peter - Rocky’ by Jesus himself. He was a tough Galilean fisherman, a man’s man, more than ready to give his opinion and the one most likely to put his foot in it. The Gospels tell us that he was the first to confess that Jesus was the Christ. At the last supper, when Jesus spoke about denial, betrayal and death, he was the one who said, ‘God forbid! I will never deny you!’ They were words he would come to bitterly regret. Peter’s role is central to the story and we can learn so much from his experience.
In St John’s Gospel two events give us an insight into Peter’s journey into Easter. Both are to do with charcoal fires and the people gathered around them.
In the first incident, Peter finds himself in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house. In the space of just a few hours his whole world had collapsed. He had witnessed Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. Despite his brave intervention with a sword [and it would have taken a brave man to intervene against such a strongly armed lynch mob], the man he had proclaimed as the Christ was before Caiaphas the Priest on the charge of blasphemy, something he knew was punishable by death.
St John tells us that while Peter sought warmth from a charcoal fire he was asked, “Are you not one of this man’s disciples? Did I not see you in the garden with him? Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away?” The three questions were opportunities for Peter to stand by his Lord, but three times he denied him, “I don’t know what you are talking about! I don’t know the man!” On the third denial the cock crowed, just as Jesus said it would. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that “he ran outside and wept bitterly”, words that reveal his total devastation. Despite his physical strength and brave words he too had deserted Jesus and left him to walk the Via Dolorosa alone.
But as Easter people we know that Peter’s story does not end there. For early on the first day of the week came the earth shattering news that Jesus had risen from the tomb. Peter was the first, along with the Beloved Disciple, to go into the empty grave. The Gospel writers do not describe Peter’s reaction on that first Easter Sunday evening when the risen Jesus came to his disciples. They leave much to our imagination.
St John’s second mention of a charcoal fire takes us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, some days later. Peter and a few of the other apostles had gone out fishing, doing what they had done before they were called to be fishers of men. They had toiled all night and had caught nothing, when a stranger on the shore suggested that they should cast their nets on the other side of the boat. What followed was a miraculous catch of fish and the joyful realisation that the man on the beach was none other than the risen Lord. Then, as they enjoyed a barbecued breakfast of fish and bread around the fire Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter, without hesitation, answered each time, “Yes Lord, I love you!”
John, the Gospel writer, reminds us in these accounts around two charcoal fires that Peter’s journey into Easter was not to end in his threefold denial but in his threefold confession of love. This experience had made him the rock on which Christ would build his Church.
The Easter event not only changed the lives of Peter and the first disciples, it has the power to transform our lives too. Like Peter, we may fall time and time again. We may meet with difficulties along the pilgrim way, but as Easter people we can celebrate how God’s love for us is always victorious. It is a love that conquers evil and death, and which heals, liberates, pardons and restores. Peter experienced this and we can know it too!
Pasg Hapus - Happy Easter