Homily delivered during the Liturgy of the Passion and Death of the Lord.
John 18:1 – 19:42
The slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing round it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself (John 18:18)
The verse I have just quoted sounds like a straightforward note about St Peter and the servants of the chief priest. But as always there is more to St John’s gospel than it first meets the eye.
We read in the Passion that Peter gets into the palace of the chief priest with the help of another disciple. In this courtyard the servants have lit a fire seeking comfort from the cold. Peter joins them as the cold is getting to him too and it is here that he finds himself denying Jesus, not once but three times – just as the Lord had predicted he would.
Back in the room of the last supper Peter had offered to lay down his life for Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane, when the soldiers and the police came to capture the Lord, Peter had acted impulsively trying to defend Him. Now Peter’s love for Jesus has brought him to the palace of the high priest; his love has commanded him to follow Jesus even to the place where he is being detained. However, it seems that Peter’s courage runs quickly from this point in the story, his faith is crushed, and his love for Jesus grows cold in the face of adversities.
As courage dims out into fear, Peter has to find another source of comfort which John identifies in the charcoal fire lit by those who persecute Jesus. As faith wanes, Peter has to find new fellowship with others, and John tells us that Peter looks for it in those who oppose Jesus. As love grows cold, Peter abandons the true shining light of Jesus and he is left with small glowing embers at the fireside. In this environment of false comfort, false fellowship, and false light, it becomes almost natural for Peter to deny Jesus out of fear, out of peer-pressure, out of disappointment.
As I preached on Palm Sunday I invited people to look closely to the characters of the Passion and to see themselves as one of them. So can we see ourselves as Peter? Can we see ourselves as those whose love for Jesus may be flickering, or growing cold? Can we see ourselves as those who daily seek comfort and life apart from the presence of Jesus? I think we can.
On Good Friday we face the crude reality of the Cross. This is something that we can hardly begin to comprehend in our lifetime, and it is something that Peter himself did not have the courage to face. The Passion, Cross, and death of Jesus are the stumbling block of our faith; if we have the courage and love to believe in God today, on Good Friday, then our faith will conquer every adversity. But if we, like Peter, cannot believe in the face of a suffering, dying Jesus, then our faith will not be able to stand many trials and we will soon look for comfort and light in the passing things of this world.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ provide us with enough faith, courage, and love to tread the way to Calvary this day and ever – there we will see him giving his life for each of us, and there He will demand us to imitate him giving our life for the world. Amen.