(By Rachel Joyce)
I read the words and cringe,
Dreading what comes next.
Stop, Peter! Please, don’t
Be so sure of yourself.
The perfectionist in me agonizes,
The good girl, trying to get it right,
So afraid of failure, of messing up
And missing out, not measuring up.
How can I read this again?
Why did it have to be this way?
Such unmitigated unfaithfulness
Recorded in all four gospels!
Peter’s protests echo in my ears,
“Even if I must die with you,
I will not deny you!”
And on they trudge to Gethsemane,
Where Peter sleeps while Jesus prays,
In an agony of anticipation
Of that fearsome cross
Which looms ahead.
As the great crowd of elders
And chief priests seize Jesus,
Not only Peter, but all the disciples
Melt away into the darkness.
And Jesus willingly surrenders Himself
To the high priest for interrogation.
He stands alone, condemned, and hated
By those He has come to save.
Peter, fearful, follows afar and then
Sits in the courtyard beside the servants,
Warming himself near the flickering
Flames of the charcoal fire.
Once, twice, three times he denies
His Lord, until the crowing of the rooster
Brings him to his senses and he realizes,
Remembers Jesus’ words:
“Before the rooster crows today,
You will deny me three times.”
And then across the courtyard,
Peter glimpses his Lord.
The tender, compassionate eyes
Of Jesus gaze deeply into his own,
Shame and anguish well up as bitter
Tears streak down dusty cheeks.
And he thinks all is lost: his Lord,
His character, his future, but these
Deaths are just the darkness
Before the morning of new life,
When desolation’s abyss is filled
By overflowing love and grace,
Which pursues, heals, and restores,
Those crushed by sin and failure.
Dawn’s first rays pierced the blackness
Of His empty tomb as the angel tells
The trembling women, “He is risen!”
“Tell his disciples, including Peter.”
But resurrection joy and wonder
Still hold the heaviness
Of Peter’s shame and he reverts
To what he knows so well - fishing.
The pink and golden rays of dawn glint
Across the Sea of Galilee as the weary disciples
Draw in their empty, dripping fishing nets
And head toward the sandy shore
Where a lone figure calls out to them,
“Children, do you have any fish?” And
At their “No,” the command comes,
“Cast the net on the right side.”
As they obey, their bulging net shimmers
With wriggling fish, and John whispers,
“It is the Lord.” So Peter leaps into the water
And wades through the waves to Jesus.
Fish sizzle, roasting over glowing coals.
And the smell reminds Peter of the stench
Of his betrayal. But Jesus says, “Come!
Bring your fish and come eat mine.”
Breakfast with Jesus - His fish and theirs,
Along with bread and grace, offered
Freely as the breakers spill out
In foam upon the Galilean beach.
And to the rhythmic beating of the waves,
Came Jesus’ questions, “Simon…do you
Love me?” three times over. Three affirmations
To drown out the three betrayals.
“Lord, you know everything, You know…
My failure, my faithlessness, my sin.
You know my heart, how small my love
And loyalty are. You know it all.
But now I know, your love for me — love
Stronger than death, greater than my sin,
Steadfast, unwavering, and unceasing.
Despite my denials, you love me still.”
Years later, Peter writes (because Peter knows)
Of the mighty power of God’s loyal love,
To restore, support, and strengthen, us
And enable us to stand firmly in His grace.