I hadn’t been out of bed fifteen minutes this morning before I fell into it again. The grabbing for control. The ungentle pushing of someone else rising from my own still present need to produce. (Forgive me, my friend?)
I had thought to write of the wordless coming of the Word, comfort when our own words fail, and save these thoughts for Lent. But I need to hear these words again now.
And maybe as we watch for His presence coming among us, this isn’t so far off. My guess is that his daily coming, no matter the season, often looks much like this.
* * * * *
It wouldn’t have felt like grace at the time.
“Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth: before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Oh, no. It would not have felt like grace.
And yet, Peter, though you couldn’t yet see it, it was grace of the deepest sort, for it exposed your self-dependence so that when the flimsy structure collapsed, the foundation of Christ’s sturdy love would have already begun to be revealed. It would still shock you when the flimsy walls fell; it is always painful to realize that the strongest, sturdiest love you can build, the commitment and loyalty you know are so firmly grounded in you prove to be straw, blown down by one huff and one puff from the big bad wolf. Yes, it would still send you out in the darkest night, weeping bitterly. But after the shock, there would be a glimmer of hope. For Jesus had known. What had startled you had not surprised him. He had known, and he had immediately followed the painful revelation of your weakness with long words of comfort. “You will deny me three times. Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. . . I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Peter, could you even hear the words spoken so soon after the staggering prediction of your denial? Sentence after sentence of far more staggering promise. “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things. . . and I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. . . . Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
No, Jesus wasn’t surprised when your self-dependence fell apart, Peter. He knew it would: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” He told you that it was his choice that held you, not yours. “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Your denial, Peter, isn’t the end. Where your self-dependence proves empty, you will learn grace, for there you will discover that Jesus’ love is strong enough to hold you.
Nor were you alone in receiving the gift. Jesus gave it to all of you. First you, Peter (John 13:38), and then all the rest (John 16:32), double declarations of the certain failure of all his followers bracketing the certainty of his love. Your own emptiness revealed so it could be filled full of him.
“A time is coming and has come when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.”
Did you hear him, Peter, hear why he has shown you your inability to stand? Peace! It’s here that the gift starts to feel like a gift: when the gracious, painful revelation of failure is accepted, and you find your place in the kingdom on the basis of his choosing and holding you. Then you know you are loved. Not just the you you think you should be. The real you. You yourself with your love and longing and courage and your cowardice and anger and confusion. The you that gets it wrong time after time. You, all of you, the whole glorious mess, embraced by a grace that knows you completely and loves you perfectly.
Oh, Peter, I love watching you come close even after your failure. You’re first into the empty tomb, running (John 20:3-6). First to jump overboard, racing to Jesus (21:7). You were so desperate for His presence.
May I run with you, Peter, straight into the love offered?
(All Scripture, except where marked, comes from John 13:37 – 16:33)