Maundy Thursday – On Fear

This is the second of two meditations I gave tonight at our Maundy Thursday service.

Mark 14:66-72 – While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt.* Then the cock crowed.* And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

Were you there when Peter lied about knowing Jesus? Peter was not a bad person. Earlier we heard about how he wanted Jesus to wash not just his feet, but his whole body, so earnest was he about following Jesus. But then his teacher had been arrested and convicted as Peter looked on. Now he is being confronted about his association with the arrested man, and Peter lies. I think he was afraid, exhausted, and probably full of adrenaline.

Fear turns us against our best selves, and can turn us against one another. There is fear in our world today over adequate water and oil, fear about jobs and crime, fear of sickness and death, fear of discrimination and rejection, fear of being overrun by those on the other side of the political spectrum, whichever that side may be… Fears can overwhelm us.

What resonates with me in this story is not whether or not Peter said he knew Jesus. For me, it is not about being willing to admit I am a Christian. In today’s political climate, one’s willingness to be called Christian can feel like a loaded statement, and it may not have the same meaning for me as for the one who hears it. What really strikes me is that Peter responded out of fear and impulse in a way that went against his own planning and intent.

Up to this moment, Peter thinks he has what it takes to stand firm as a disciple of Jesus, and has even stayed nearby during the trial. Didn’t Peter say that he would never betray Jesus? And then it happens so quickly, and before he realizes it, he has denied even knowing his teacher and friend.

Where have I let fear get in the way of speaking the truth? Where have I chosen the easy way out instead of risking hard conversations and building relationships?

Peter is afraid, angry, and upset. I am too. I weep with him. There are times when has my heart been just too broken, when has hope failed, and I have quit trusting in God. With Peter, we may weep when we realize our own fear overrides the message of the gospel, when we deny God’s abundant and passionate love.

Tonight, may we find the strength and the courage to be prophetic and instead of fearfully silent. May we be faithful to Jesus’ reminder of love and servanthood in the breaking of the bread, and the washing of feet. May we find the motivation to stand in solidarity with all who are crushed by the weight of poverty, illness, discrimination and hate. May we seek ways to build relationships, bridging divides instead of creating barriers.

And at the end of this dark night, though we watch our teacher and friend led away to face crucifixion, though we face all which causes us anger and despair today, may we remember that we can’t fix this on our own. We will fail, but God is faithful. God’s power is present in weakness, even our own.

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