April 5, 2023 Holy Week.
I am a great fan of Rebus puzzles. These are puzzles formed from words that create a picture of a well-known phrase or saying. One that has stuck with me over the years looks like this:
m_ce m_ce m_ce
It is very simple. And when you "get it," you sort of smack your forehead and say, "of course!" And yet, it requires you to "see" what is not there, perhaps even more than what is there. This particular puzzle depicts the "Three Blind Mice," quite simply because it spells out "mice" three times, but the "i" is missing. So it must be the three mice without "eyes," or the three blind mice. I like to use it as an introduction to certain spiritual topics, because it is a unique way of leading into the idea, that there are three important, but different "i's" that are important to our spiritual journey. The first is the "I." For the purposes of this discussion, this is our "ego" that many times gets in our own way and actually impedes our progress. The second is "aye." It represents those things to which we say "yes," and commit ourselves to serving, or following through on - that to which we are obedient. And finally, the third is the "eye." This relates, as you might expect, to vision - both how we look ahead, but also how we are seen - what is the witness we give to others; but what they observe (or, see) in how we live our lives? This is the time period in the calendar of our church life, that we call Holy Week. Whatever else it may mean, it is often a time that people reflect on their spiritual life, when they might not have stopped to do it any other time of the year. Easter has a way of bringing certain thoughts to a head, that only simmered below the surface the rest of the year. The events and message of Easter bring a certain clarity to the questions that we sometimes try to ignore regarding our ultimate situation. Sort of a "Put up, or shut up" moment. Paul wrote to the Corinthians
I Corinthians 1: 23 we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
Mark Bowman tells, that on his last day at a small business, where he had worked for several years, before he was to leave for Cambodia as a missionary, he went around to say goodbye to old friends. As he made his rounds, he was surprised to find out how many people said that they envied him. He asked, "Why?" To which they responded, that they envied his courage to do what they always wanted to do, but didn't. That night he had a dream that he was in prison, saying goodbye to all the other inmates, as he was finally getting out. But then the funny part of his dream was, that as he walked out of the prison and turned around to look back, he realized that the prison did not have any doors or bars - the only thing that was keeping all those people still in the prison was the fear in their own mind. It makes you want to stop and think, particularly during Holy Week leading up to Easter, what is holding us back from serving the Lord? Barbara Bailey Reinhold warns in her book, Toxic Work, that
some people wait until their life is close to over before they begin asking, what it has been all about, and what they might have done differently. Each of us, she writes, guards the gates of change, that can only be opened from the inside!
Many of us are like Peter. We open that "gate of change" only slowly and erratically, cautious about what might come in. While perhaps exaggerated at times, the contrasts of Peter's life (as told in the gospels) are not unlike our own.
Note, for example, that he had his moments of rapture and "high vision," and yet, he was still conscious of the depths of sin within his own being. One day Peter pronounced a magnificent eulogy of Christ, and then the next day, sought to rebuke Him. At one time we find him the companion of the Master on the blessed Mount, but a few hours later, he is swearing that he never knew Him! Peter forsakes all to follow Christ, yet on Thursday of the first Holy Week, Peter will forsake Him in the garden. Peter was frank, outspoken, and generous in his impulses, even when mistaken. At times, he was utterly wanting in personal reserve and his hot-headed impatience got him into trouble. Peter seemed to act on the rule: "When in doubt, speak!"
Yet, in spite of Peter's reckless tongue, heedlessness of prejudice, and lack of caution, Jesus chose him as an apostle. And most interestingly, it was often the verbal blunderings of Peter, that afforded Jesus occasions to teach some of His most invaluable lessons. And like so many things in Peter's life, they all seemed to come in three's. Peter made a three-fold confession of Christ's deity:
John 6: 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God Matthew 16: 16 You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God Luke 5: 8 Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!
Peter also made a three-fold boast:
Matthew 26: 33 Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will Matthew 26: 35 Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you Luke 22: 33 Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death
Peter meant everything he confessed, when he did it, but was unconscious of his own weakness. As a result, Jesus pressed home three warnings:
Luke 22: 31-32 Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. Mark 8: 33 "Get behind me, Satan!" He said, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." John 13: 38 I tell you the truth before the cock-crow, you will disown me three times!
But even these red lights or flags, failed to arrest Peter, or prevent him, from making a three-fold denial on that fateful Thursday, so long ago, the inevitable issue of his self-confident boasting and bravado.
Matthew 26: 69-74 Peter was sitting in the courtyard [of the High Priest] and a servant girl said, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you are talking about." Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said ... "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth," He denied it again, with an oath, "I do not know the man!" After a little while, those standing there said, "Surely, you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." Then he began to call down curses and swore to them "I do not know the man!"
Calvin and others have explained Peter's behavior as cowardice, but I think taking such a simplistic view, is misleading and can easily cause us to miss a crucial point.
Peter is reckless bravery personified. No coward would have ever even been in this situation -- those had all run away.
Peter was Mr. Macho - the man's man. It was Peter who stepped out of the boat to walk on water in a raging storm. It was Peter alone who drew a sword to face the army that came to arrest Jesus. It was Peter alone that attacked the High Priest's servants, cleaving off an ear, before Christ stopped him -- no enemy sword even touched him.
And when others had run away, it was Peter that followed Jesus to the High Priest's house, and then, in spite of the fact he had just drawn a sword on them, mingled with the High Priest's servants around the campfire.
He was either the bravest guy you would ever want to meet, or the dumbest!
The amazing thing is not that he was recognized, but rather, what took so long?
And when they did recognize him, and he knowing Jesus had told him clearly to keep his sword sheathed, Peter did the first reckless thing that came to mind. He denied his Lord to the innocent question of a servant girl.
In his arrogant pride, he thought he could handle it! But then, one little lie led to another ... and another ... and then ...
Luke 22: 60-62 ... the rooster crowed. At that moment, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, or should I say, straight through Peter! Can you imagine the power and the emotion in that look?
For just that moment, it was as if there was no one else there - just Peter - face to face - eye to eye with God!
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
I Corinthians 13: 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Peter was face to face with the God of the Universe and suddenly ... he knew ... he remembered ... and it broke him!
Luke 22: 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.
He had had his close encounter with God - face to face - and he would never again be the same.
Never again would he cling to the "I" in place of Christ. Never again would he fight Jesus for control. Never again would he presume to question his Lord.
He had surrendered. He had finally surrendered all!
And the once proud, but now new Peter would write in his epistle,
I Peter 5: 5-6 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.
And then after Jesus rose from the dead and came back to speak with Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus gave Peter his three-fold commission to
John 21: 17 Feed my sheep!
and one last call,
John 21: 19 Follow me!
Then Peter could write with an understanding no other will ever possess,
I Peter 4: 8-10 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins ... Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
Let this be our prayer this Holy Week 2023!
Your Brother in Christ,
I invite each of you to comment, or share a related story or thought of your own, in the the comments section below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester