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Weekend of the Passion 2016 March 19 & 20: "Tears"

Weekend of the Passion 2016

March 19-20, 2016

Luke 22:1-23:56

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            Some people will not worship because they cry when they’re here.  Tears embarrass them.  I point out that they’ll be facing forward and only the people sitting closest to them in the pews will notice.  I don’t think my saying that has ever made a difference, though. 

            I’ve cried in this sanctuary.  Maybe you have, too.  We’re in good company.  The Bible mentions people who have cried throughout salvation history:

·         Esau cries when he realizes his twin Jacob has stolen his birthright from him. (Gen. 27.38)

·         Years later Jacob’s son Joseph cries after he returns from Egypt and sees his father (now named Israel) for the first time in many years. (Gen. 46.29)

·         Rachel weeps for her children, who are no more.  (Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:18)

·         King David wept for his and Bathsheba’s infant son, so sick and not long for this life. (2 Kings 12:21)

·         King David wept for his dead adult son: “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom!” (2 Kings 18:33)

·         The widow of Nain cried over her dead son, whom Jesus then raised.  (Luke 7:13ff)

·         Jairus, his family and friends wept for his dead daughter, whom Jesus then raised.  (Luke 8:52ff)

·         Mary wept for her & Martha’s dead brother Lazarus, whom Jesus then raised.  (John 11:33)

·         Jesus Himself wept for Lazarus, whom He then raised. (John 11:35)

·         Jesus cries over Jerusalem, after He enters the city riding on a donkey. (Luke 19:41)

·         The “daughters of Jerusalem” weep as they see Jesus stumble on the road, on His way to be crucified.  (Luke 23:27)

·         Mary Magdalene cries when she finds the tomb empty. (John 20:11)

And of course, listening to the story of the Passion, we are reminded that Peter “wept bitterly” on the night of our Lord’s arrest.  The Message says, “He went out and cried and cried and cried.” (Luke 22:62)

      You remember why.  Peter denied knowing our Lord, denied being His follower, even denied being from Galilee (despite his accent), when confronted in the courtyard of the high priest’s house.  At the Last Supper earlier in the evening Jesus had predicted it would happen and Peter said, “No way!”  St. Luke is the only evangelist who quotes Jesus in just this way:

“Simon, Simon, listen!  [I can see Jesus taking Peter’s face in His hands as He says this….]  Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31-32)

Only in St. Luke’s Gospel, Peter then protests,

“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”  (Luke 22:33)

To Peter’s credit, his mention of prison and death shows that he has a pretty good idea where following Jesus could lead….  He doesn’t naively or foolishly underestimate “the cost of discipleship.” 

But -- Jesus knows that Peter is going to cave.  When the temperature is turned up, Peter’s resolve is going to cool.  That’s why Jesus adds, “… and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  And then comes the tragically true prediction:

“I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”                       (Luke 22:34)

You’ve heard this before, but it’s so important for us to remember the powerful and intimate meaning of that word “know.”  For Peter to say he doesn’t “know” Jesus isn’t simply to say he’s never met Him or never heard of Him before.  It means Jesus means nothing to him.  His relationship with Jesus (if he had one….) would be of no consequence.  No matter to him if Jesus lived or died….

            Yet -- Peter was brave enough to follow the posse that arrested Jesus almost into the lion’s den, the courtyard of the high priest’s house.  (St. John also tells us it’s Peter who drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane and sliced off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.  ‘Can’t accuse him of running at the first sign of trouble.)  But – when push came to shove and 3 different people challenged Peter about his association with Jesus, he denied any connection. 

            Only St. Luke adds this heartwrenching detail to the sad story.  With the final words of denial barely out of Peter’s mouth, and as the cock crowed,

The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly.   (Luke 22:61-62)

Tears can mean more than one thing.  Often they show sadness.  Sometimes they tip us off someone’s angry.  Other times they’re a sign of joy.  So what did Peter’s tears say?  Did they speak of shame?  Anger at himself for falling so hard into temptation?  Probably.  And also sadness that he’d bailed and left the Lord to suffer alone, lying repeatedly that he didn’t know or care about Him.  Peter came to his senses and regained his courage later, as we know….  So I’d also say those where tears of repentance and not of despair.  Somehow Peter held tight to what Judas let go: God’s mercy, the divine willingness to forgive, is always greater than our ability to sin.

            Remember what the Lord said to Peter?  “… and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  The “turning back” is literally what repentance is.  There is room in the Body of Christ for those who have fallen hard and had to be picked up.  There isneed in the Body of Christ for those who have fallen hard and had to be picked up.  We probably haven’t denied the Lord in so many words.  But what have our actions – or inactions – said?  Have they suggested that we don’t know our Lord?  Or don’t care about Him?  When we have been brought to tears of sorrow for our failures in love, humbled on account of our sins, and then brought to tears of joy in gratitude for the Lord’s mercy, we become wounded healers…  If only we recognize ourselves in every Peter who ever schwaffled between courage and cowardice, faith and faithlessness, big words and small deeds.  If only we remember the Lord’s commission to us, too: “… and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers and sisters.”  Amen

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham