Mark 14:27-31 (Year B)
Introduction to Dialogue:
Pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable to You. Amen.
Australians call them Stuff-ups. What is a “stuff up?” Wait for an answer. Yes! Blunders, errors, mistakes. When I commit them, I just want to duck and cover. The last thing I desire is to stick up my hand in the midst of my friends and say: “yeah, that was me.”
Blunders include our verbal gaffes, our errors of estimation of ourselves and the situations around us. Here is one: [Cite a recent gaffe from current news likely to be familiar to the congregation.]
Here is another: “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.” Do you recognize who said that? Yes, Neville Chamberlain Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1938. He said this upon returning from a meeting in Munich with Hitler . Twelve months later Germany invades Poland. Great Britain and Europe plunge into World War II. We can only shake our heads and wonder about Prime Minister Chamberlain when he said, “…peace for our time.” What was he thinking?
This Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday we remember one of the great gaffes of the New Testament. There in, is today’s lesson.
Jesus: “You will all become deserters…”
Peter: “Even though all become deserters, I will not!”
Jesus: “Truly I tell you… this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Peter: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you…”
Disciple 1: (stand in pew, call loudly to Peter) Peter, what happened?
Peter: We all saw Judas kiss Jesus then… that mob seized Jesus. A sword appeared from nowhere. The High Priest’s slave’s ear is cut off. Then I knew trouble would avalanche. Amid the shouts and confusion I hide in the roots of an old olive tree. What happened to you lot?
Disciple 2: (Stand in pew, call loudly to Peter) We high-tailed out of there, scattered. Where did they take Jesus?
Peter: The mob drags Jesus from the Mount of Olives. I follow at a distance. We cross the Kidron Valley and enter Jerusalem’s east gate. The city streets are empty at that hour. I lag behind. I do not want to be seen or caught. Following their torchlights and noise is easy. They lead me to the High Priest’s house.
Disciple 3: (Stand in pew, call loudly to Peter) What? You went to the High Priest’s house?
Peter: Jesus must have been inside. I can not see him. A fire burns in the court yard. No one guards the gate. I enter. I sit with those warming themselves at the fire. You know how cold it is tonight. We all have our cloaks wrapped tight. Only when I sit close do I realize those at the fire with me are from that mob that grabbed Jesus, soldiers of the High Priest. My blood runs cold. Still, I stay to hear what is said.
Disciple 1: (stand in pew, call loudly to Peter) Who spoke? What did they say?
Peter: Who spoke? So-called witnesses. They cannot get their stories straight. False testimony, lies. The priests want, need, two witnesses to say the same thing, to make a case against Jesus. It does not happen. Finally, the High Priest himself, I recognize his voice, asks Jesus: “Are you the messiah?” Now, the priest is speaking Greek and my Greek is not too good. But Jesus says, “I am–” but you know in Greek when you say “I am” it can also mean, “Am I?” The High Priest hears it as “I am,” a confession from Jesus. The High Priest tears his robe and screams, “you have heard his blasphemy!” The High Priest calls for the guards, the men at the fire with me. He hands Jesus over to the guards. They begin to beat Jesus.
Disciple 2: (stand in pew, call loudly to Peter) Ah, Peter, it must have been torture for you listening to Jesus be abused and dangerous, too. Yet, you stayed, loyal to the end. And Jesus thought you would deny him. Good old, faithful Peter… Pause
Voice from the pulpit: Where does Mark get this account of Jesus at the High Priest’s house? We are not told of any other witness than Peter. What do we conclude? The conclusion: Peter tells his own story. Peter, for better or worse, perhaps wanting to duck and cover, Peter tells us what happened at the High Priest’s house.
Peter: No, mates, not so loyal, not so brave… pause. The guards are busy beating Jesus. With their departure from the fire there is room for others to warm themselves. The serving women gather at the blaze to see and hear what is going on. One of them looks at me and says, “Hey, you were with that man from Nazareth. You were with Jesus!” The night is chilly but I break into a sweat when she fingers me. I can hear what they are doing to Jesus. The High Priest has accused Jesus of blasphemy. When the guards are done with him, they will stone him to death.
In fear I say to the serving woman, “I do not know what you are talking about, woman! I do not know him.” The courtyard cock crows. To put some distance between me and that nosy woman, I move to the gate.
But people have heard her accusation. Others are looking at me. She follows me. She says to the surrounding people, “This man is one of them!” There is such venom in her voice, my denial comes quick, “I do not know that Galilean!”
Now, I stand outside the gate. I still want to know what will happen next to Jesus. Another bystander measures me up and says, “Certainly, you are one of them. I can tell by YOUR accent you are a Galilean.”
I curse my accuser and shout, “I swear on my mother’s head I do not know this man!” And with that, I hear the courtyard cock crow, again.
At the passover dinner tonight, I had sworn to Jesus, sworn to him, that even though everyone might desert him, I would not. Even if I had to die with Jesus, I would not desert him.
Remember what Jesus said to me? (yes, before the cock crows twice, I would deny him three times.) Fearing for my life I, I fight my way through the crowd and escaped Back in the Kidron Valley, where it is dark as death, I break down and weep, sisters and brothers. I weep bitterly. (Peter sits) Pause…
Voice from the pulpit:
Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday: we started our worship with the laughter and joy of waving palm fronds. We celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem AND his triumphal entrance into our hearts and lives.
But, Palm Sunday also marks the commencement of the week leading to the cross. Dark days loom ahead for Jesus. We end this worship on a somber note. We face the challenges of remembering the truth. We muster the courage to be honest. We stick up our hands in the midst of our friends and tell the stories of desertion, denial, and betrayal. We remember the pain and passion of Good Friday.
Peter wept bitterly. He grieved for what he had done. He bore the shame of what he failed to do. He sorrowed over his fear and his feet of clay. But neither denials nor betrayals are the worst sin against Jesus or God. The worst sin is despair. Peter breaks down. Peter weeps. Peter rues his denial. Peter repents. Peter shares his story with others and Peter’s story continues. What happened to Judas?
Even as we enter this somber week, or any of our own grief laden and sorrowful weeks, we do not despair. Let us pray…
A related quote:
“Faith puts people on the road, hope keeps them there, and love indeed makes the world go around. Despair is not an option.” (p. 158, Letters to a Young Doubter by William Sloan Coffin)