Holy Week 2005


Not again. Not again! Peter could not imagine how it could be worse; but that was his real problem; he could not imagine.

It had been such a turbulent day that he had been even less in control than usual. There had been the preparations for the Passover and friction with young John over where everyone would sit. He remembered The Master saying that he who put himself at the bottom of the table would be brought higher; but it hadn't happened, so John had kept the seat of honour. Then there was the foot washing; it was the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to him, the Master behaving like a slave. He had got used to hearing Him say all kinds of outrageous things but apart from the scene in the Temple with the traders he hadn't done anything really mad until this. Of course, like the rest, he had to go along with it, particularly as there was so much talk about the Master going away. He couldn't face that; whatever his faults, Peter had become so committed to Jesus that he could not bear the thought of leaving Him. That's why he was so emphatic about never denying his Master. He could not imagine any situation in which he would deny Him.

Then he had fallen asleep in the garden when he should have prayed; and then, flustered when that traitor Judas turned up with the Temple Police, he had lashed out and injured Malchus; and still The Master stayed calm, looking at him with that peculiar mixture of love and pity which He saved only for him.

The Master could see right inside him. When Peter had made a fool of himself, like that time when he broke the vision of Elias and Moses or the time when he jumped out of the boat, thinking he could walk on water, he would always go away quietly and perform some special task and try to pray even harder. He never told the others how many nights he had spent fixing things for people who could not afford to pay; and he never said how much effort he put into prayer and how hard it was; but The Master knew. And that's when He gave him that special look.

That was in the good days in Galilee before they had all come to Jerusalem where people were so hostile and snobbish; they seemed to spend all their time trying to trap The Master so that it was really hard work teaching. And Peter didn't like living in this hilly, arid place without a lake; and he didn't like the meat; and they didn't like the way his beard was cut or, rather, not cut, and the fisherman's coat and his Northern accent. They were always wrong footing him, trying to make him lose his temper; and they always succeeded.

He thought of the Galilee days as he walked down the hill towards the city, keeping the Police in sight. He was knotted up with hate and fear. He had never trusted Judas who was far too clever and full of stories about his great namesake; and he had been very clever to get hold of the money. But after the injury to Malchus he would have to be a bit careful.

As he came through the city gate his fear increased but he could not turn back because John came out of the shadows and signalled to him to follow. John knew everyone because of his Temple studies so Peter was not at all surprised when John pushed open a side gate in the wall of the High Priest's house and, after a minute, signalled him to come in. As Peter pushed past the woman who kept the gate she said: "Are you a disciple, like John?" and, without thinking, he said "No" and hurried on.

As usual, Peter had been so busy dealing with events as they happened that he had not thought clearly about what would happen to Jesus. The High Priest could make a big fuss and have Him beaten but that was all; and perhaps Nicodemus could sort things out. He was a bit posh for Peter but he had got them out of a couple of tight corners before and this looked like the tightest yet.

Then he heard somebody mention Pilate and he felt himself getting out of control again. He had always been strong and physically fearless but he could never remember a time when he had not been frightened of the Romans. Up in Galilee it was not too bad as long as they got their money but down in Jerusalem they were edgy and that meant trouble. The less certain they were, the more brutal they were.

A junior clerk said that the Romans were obsessed with what he called due process but he was overwhelmed by critics who said the Romans would do anything to get their own way but, much worse, it was impossible to make a deal with Pilate because nothing ever stuck.

He had stayed against the courtyard wall until the cold got the better of him and he had to warm his feet. He did not want to be noticed but he had forgotten to get rid of his long knife and a Policeman roughly reminded him in a loud voice that it was strictly forbidden to carry unauthorised weapons on the High Priest's premises. Everybody looked at him and then, to his horror, a servant said: "I recognise that knife; you attacked my cousin Malchus with it".

Now he was really frightened as everybody looked at him and began to crowd around him. They could not shout in the courtyard because they would get into trouble but they started a low, menacing chant: "Kill Jesus! Kill the Galileans!" Then he completely lost control and charged blindly through the crowd, his knife flailing, until he got through the gate.

He would have to hide until he could work out what to do next so he crouched behind a wall to get his breath back. He heard a cock crow somewhere on the Mount of Olives and then he remembered what The Master had said; and slowly  he realised the enormity of what he had done. The Master had been in danger and he had pretended not to know him and run away. Not again! He had failed the test, his biggest yet. And he would never see The Master again if the Romans got Him.

He heard a small group of soldiers marching round the corner. He crouched lower. They were passing him on the way to the Governor's House. Even in his fear he could not help looking; and the only thing he saw in the flaring torchlight was the face of The Master.

The Romans had got Him; that would be the end of everything. How could he possibly live once Jesus was dead?

Then Peter saw that look; that mixture of love and pity He saved only for him; and in that moment Peter knew that he would promise and fail and struggle and be forgiven; and would promise and fail and struggle and be forgiven; that The Master would be with him forever.

Prayer. Jesus, Saviour of the World, may we not deny You in word and silence when called upon to bear witness to Your holy name. May we, like Peter, be contrite and humble when we have failed, seeking Your forgiveness, turning again to You in prayer and good works. Even now, as You are condemned through false witnesses, we pray for Your help that we may always be true to Your earthly life in everything that we say and do. And, as You loved Peter's flawed love for You, may we never forget that our love imperfectly returns what You have given to us in Your Passion and Death. Made sorrowful and joyful by Your full and final sacrifice, may we ever thank the Father for being His creatures and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Amen.