We named our third son Nils Peter. Nils for his great-grandfather. Peter for Jesus’ disciple. This was my contribution, this naming for a favorite player in the Gospel stories. I like Peter. He is all passion for all the right reasons, and all human in his limitations. Like me.
And like Grant. Grant is our oldest, now a husband and daddy and worship pastor. And even though we gave Nils the middle name, it’s really our firstborn who reminds me most of Jesus’ fiery friend. Grant, from the womb, it would seem, has had this inner instinct to insist, “I know!” I know the answer. I know how to do it. I know what we should do. “I know! I know!”
One of the little treasures I discovered in purging our Andover home before our move this summer was a page of quotes from our young sons. Most I remembered, but I’d somehow forgotten this especially delightful gem.
Luke (observing the feeding of baby Nils): How does that cows’ milk get into Mommy’s tummy?
Grant: It’s not cows’ milk. It’s goats’ milk.
Earlier this summer I spent a week with Trailblazers at Camp Shamineau. Wednesday was designated “gospel night” and it was the night I told my most personal story. Nine- to twelve-year-olds sat riveted listening to a grown-up woman confessing to being an ordinary liar until the day Jesus blew the head off that old snake. A story told before somewhere in these blog archives, and one I may tell again someday in its longer version, but not today. Today it’s Peter.
Camp chapel. I reached the conclusion of my Wednesday come-to-Jesus message, pulling out one of my favorite spins on an old-old story. The Story of Peter and His Terrible Lie. You know the one. Gospel climax meets human failure in all its glory.
“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” That’s Peter.
And Jesus, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Of course, as the story unfolds, events turn out just as Jesus predicts. He is arrested, bound by soldiers, dragged away into the night. Most of the disciples scatter, but Peter and his buddy John stay closer to the action, watching from the shadows. Hovering between the cover of dark, and the warmth of a courtyard fire, someone catches a glimpse of recognition, calls Peter out. “You’re one of them. You were with him.” Three times the accusation is made; three times Peter denies; and then, the rooster.
And Peter remembers.
Head snaps to awful realization. A gasp, maybe, or a groan. Full attention. And then. (We hardly notice the most poignant moment in the gospel text.)
…the rooster crowed. (And then.) The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.
This is the moment I love. The hidden surprise in a well-known story. I ask camp kids to close their eyes. (I’d ask you, too, if it weren’t for the reading.) Do you see them? Peter and Jesus. In that awful moment. Jesus. Arrested and bound. Peter denying. Lying. Eyes meeting in recognition.
And I ask. This.
What does Peter see? In Jesus’ expression? What does he see in Jesus’ eyes?
You could hear a pin drop, and then the whisper of one brave Trailblazer boy. “He’s… Angry.”
Angry. Or is he?
Might this be the plot twist in this cherished story? I dare to challenge. Let’s read the text, again, my friends.
Right there, he says it. “I have prayed for you, (Peter)—that your faith may not fail.” Those words of Jesus.
Jesus, now, looking at him.
Peter. Thinking he knows, now knows, how little he’d known. There in the crow of a rooster. There, eyes locked with the one he’s denied. “I’ve prayed for you, Peter.”
And we stand there, too, don’t we? Shadowed courtyard, eyes locked. Looking into the face of one who only. Loves.
Scripture taken from Luke 22, verses 33, 34, 61 & 32