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Meditation – Lent 3 – March 4, 2018

John 18:12-27

12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.
Peter Denies Jesus
15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
The High Priest Questions Jesus
19Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Peter Denies Jesus Again
25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Meditation

“All you need is love!
All you need is love!
All you need is love! Love!
Love is all you need!”

This is an interesting song, sung by whom?  It really is a rather simple song, but I think that it is very meaningful and has a lot of power.

Today is the third Sunday in Lent and we once again find ourselves journeying through the last week with Jesus, as told by John. This Lent we have spoken about those things that we need to be unbound from, or need to let die in our lives to truly follow Christ to the cross. We then spoke about the idea of how Jesus, in the washing of the feet, broke down walls and the hierarchy of society, challenging us all to become transformed in the water to truly follow Christ as people of God, living equally with all other people. Today, we continue to move forward towards the cross, and I think that we find ourselves facing a difficult reading today.

Our reading from John this morning is an all too familiar reading – the reading where we hear that Peter denies Jesus – and I see that this is difficult in a number of different ways. If we remember the complete story, we come to realize that the reading itself is bracketed by incidences of violence. Right before this part of the story, Jesus has finished having a meal with his friends and he goes to the garden. While in the garden, according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus goes off alone to pray. In John though, even before they leave to go to the garden, Jesus foreshadows the fact that every one of the disciples will abandon him. From John chapter 16; “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone.” So we find Jesus in the garden with his followers, and Judas brings a detachment of soldiers to arrest Jesus. At this point, Peter pulls out a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the slaves of the high priest. So we come to the reading from this morning, following this incidence of violence. I said that this story was bracketed by violence, and we can see that overt violence in the actual crucifixion and death of Jesus, but there is much more violence perpetrated throughout this journey. Jesus being struck by the police when being questioned by the Chief Priest, Jesus being flogged by Pilate, Jesus being slapped by the guards, the calls to “crucify him,” Jesus being forced to carry the instrument of his own death, the cross – the ending of this story is full of violence and it would be very easy for us to just focus on that, but what is beyond that violence?  If we look hard enough we see, stretching away from the violence, is God’s infinite love.

You see, when Jesus is speaking of the fact that all will scatter, he comforts them as he says to his followers; “Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Even in the face of being denied, being left alone by all those who said they would follow, Jesus works to set their hearts at peace, he recognizes the weakness of the disciples and reacts from love and not anger. Once Peter cuts off the slave’s ear, Jesus once again responds not with anger, but with a reaffirmation that he alone will bear this out; “he said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath Am I not to drink that cup that the Father has given me?’” Meda Stamper a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary reflects on these events in the garden in the following way; “Peter’s violence, utterly contrary to Jesus’ commandment to love, is also pointless. Jesus has already come forward to surrender himself. Even when evil seems most in control, it isn’t, and Jesus’ life will be finished when he says it is.” And finally the greatest love of all that follows the end of the story, the resurrection, is where the power of God’s love defeats even death.

But we need to go back to the story because we need to listen once again to what happens next. You see, when Jesus is taken away, there are two of his disciples who follow along. There is Peter, and the one who helps Peter get into the courtyard. We never find out who the other disciple is and I wonder if that is because we are meant to identify with Peter. Peter, who said that he would always follow Jesus, no matter where Jesus went, whom Jesus knew could not truly follow all the way. Peter, the one who identified Jesus as the messiah. Peter, who Jesus stated was the rock on which he would build his church. And yet, we might as well say that this rock cracked as Peter denies Jesus three times before the sun comes up. When given the chance Peter does not come forward to testify to the power of God’s love in Jesus, but rather, in fear, he denies it all. Going back to Meda Stamper; “Peter, who has followed into the fold of that same group with their weapons of war, now has a chance to say whose he is with similar boldness but chooses instead to mingle in a lie in the heat of their charcoal fire.”

So what does all this talk of abandonment, violence, and love have to do with Lent, with us, and with our world today? A lot I think! There are two things that I think are important – the first is that even though the entire story is surrounded in violence, violence is not the answer. Jesus moves through this entire story calm and confident, aware of what is happening, but never allowing himself to become embroiled in the violence that faces him. This is not to say that he does not face that violence with strength and boldness, but rather he stands strong in his love, stands strong knowing whose he truly is, while many around him descend into fear, anger, frustration, and violence. Just over a week ago, many of us are aware of the verdict that came down in the Tina Fontaine case. I was humbled, honoured, and privileged to walk on Friday morning with those who were calling for justice. One of the statements that was brought forward both Friday morning and, prior to that, Thursday evening, by the family, was a call for no violence. So people marched with a family that faced horrible violence, but who also challenged all of us to be calm, strong, bold, and most of all, to march in love for a new form of justice in Canada. Or the students in Florida, who are standing up to the violence of what happened in their school, and now the ongoing threats because of their activism, standing up with courage, conviction, and love, so that this will never happen again to anyone else.

We could end right here, but I think that might miss another important part to this whole story, going back to Meda Stamper one last time; “The scene shifts from Peter’s fear and denial to Jesus, bound and under interrogation, but fearless and free. Jesus has nothing more to say because he has spoken boldly to friend and foe all along. This boldness will later be characteristic of Jesus’ own when they become witnesses to God’s love in the world.” And then at the end of the Book of Acts; “In the final verse of Acts, Paul, in prison, proclaims the kingdom of God with this same boldness.” So even in our weakness we are not abandoned. Paul, in this denial, in his weakness, in his fear, is loved and never abandoned by God. Stamper ends her examination of this scripture in the following way; “So there is hope for the least bold among us, in our desperate lashing out and comfortable complicity and fearful denial. There is hope for the part in each of us that has failed repeatedly, chosen easy warmth, and heard the cock crow over our failure. Even we can love boldly: tending, feeding, and bearing witness to the relentless, abundant, life-giving love of God for the world.” We are God’s beloved always, even when we fail, even when we become too comfortable in our lives that we don’t stand up, even in our brokenness. So today and every day we are called to work towards the finding the courage to stand boldly in the face of all of the violence, and apathy of this world and to move forward in love. So, on this third Sunday of Lent, will you, even in your denial, find the courage to stand with Christ in a world of violence? Amen.

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