from Rev. Michelle Junkin
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent; we will be following the steps of Jesus as he journeys towards the Cross of Calvary. Today’s Sermon continues to look at the Stations of the Cross and thus today, we focus specifically on the Third Station of the Cross when Peter Denies Christ. The denial, discussed in Matthew 26:69-75, came as no surprise. After all, Jesus gave a clear prediction that just such an event would unfold with Peter. During the Last Supper Jesus proclaims that Peter would deny and disown him. In the Gospel of Matthew account it says that Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “This very night before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. The moment of Peter denying Jesus has through the creative license of many artists throughout the ages, been reinterpreted as the subject of many works of art. Many of these interpretations include Peter, the guards, and the servant but often include the figure of Christ in the scene. However, I am fascinated by Rembrandt’s depiction.
In his masterpiece, The Denial of St Peter, Rembrandt paints the servant girl with a candle, peering in and recognizing Peter. The glow of the candle illuminates Peter’s face. Rembrandt also has painted two soldiers looking toward Peter with great suspicion. And skillfully to underline the weight of the moment of Peter’s Denial, Rembrandt shows us Jesus in the distance. Jesus’ hands are bound behind him. His body is painted in a position that is turning to look in Peter’s direction while Peter is positioned in the painting to face away from Jesus. Peter’s left-hand gestures in a conventional manner and the expression on Peter’s face is casual, calm, and free of defiance. It is evident both in Rembrandt’s depiction and in the gospel accounts, that when this moment arises in the passion cycle, the most committed to Christ disappoint, flee, and seek self-preservation. This is not the end of the story.
As the Gospel story unfolds and the joy of Easter is revealed, we learn again and again, that God meets our weakness head on. Scholar Guy Sayles, sums it up this way, “In Jesus, God forgives even the most shocking failure and restores those who fail to the dignity of usefulness and service.” This is certainly the case with Peter who denies Jesus and then becomes known as Peter the Rock, the early church leader held in great esteem. At this Station, we are encouraged to recognize that part of ourselves that is made clear in Peter’s denial. In his actions, we see our doubt, disbelief, denial, desperation, and the human tendency of self-preservation. We also see at this Station of the Cross, that Peter’s denial is met with an outpouring of Divine Love. When Peter cries bitterly for what he has done and left undone, his tears and confession are met with grace and forgiveness. Let us learn from the message of this Gospel text, as we prepare to journey to the next station.
In God’s Love,
Associate Pastor for Congregational Care