I will never disown you

Reflection for Passiontide

Revelation 3;14ff

A former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously remarked back in the sixties that “a week is a long time in politics”. That saying could be applied to the events of the first Holy Week. The triumphal, entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple, and then teaching there day by day, the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, betrayal, the condemnation and terrible death. When times are as hard as that, you discover who your true friends are: In this situation, who then, are Jesus’ true friends in this last week?

To be sure there are some, just a few, like the woman who came to the House of Simon the Leper at Bethany and anointed him with precious perfume. But the crowds who had greeted the Lord with their loud hosannas had long since gone over to the opposition. Even the disciples, that motley band, had also evaporated into thin air. And “they all forsook him and fled”, the evangelist grimly records after Jesus has been captured. They all forsook him and fled, and that leads to the most important of all questions for us as we prepare for Holy Week. What is the strength of my faith? Will I too forsake the Lord and flee?

Before anyone starts thinking “surely I would never do a thing like that”, remember that that is precisely what Peter, the rock, said to Jesus, and within no time at all, even he had denied him three times. We are fortunate indeed if our denials are only threefold, for denial of Jesus comes under many guises. There is of course the most obvious – you may be someone who has nothing to do with religion or the church, and your life openly mocks the teaching of Jesus. But there are other betrayals of “lukewarm believers” as well; that says in effect “Yes, I’ll come to church, yes I’ll stick to Christian values (though that is a phrase with many different interpretations), when it suits me.” When it suits me, is possible the most common betrayal because being so wrapped up in myself the thought of betrayal never enter my head, but does it does deeply change my way of life, telling another tale.

Caravaggio, The Denial of St. Peter [1610]
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The New Testament, especially the final book of the Revelation in chapter 3, we have continual warnings of lukewarm disciples in the seven churches of Asia Minor, showing churches that only do things when it doesn’t inconvenience them. This is the question we all face before every Easter. Do we also pick those parts of the Gospel message which fit in with our life style, rather than the other way round, of fitting our life style to the Gospel? Are we assiduous in the externals of the faith – regular attendance at church and church activities, but the heart has gone, so that faith is just an empty shell? Maybe we have to say that the weakness of the Church today is rooted in this fact that they all forsook him and fled, therefore we take heed, “he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” [Rev 3;22].

To our shame, time after time we have all fallen into this trap and acted like the first disciples and the seven Churches to whom John the theologian wrote. To our shame, time after time we have said to Our Lord, with Peter, “I will never disown you” when in truth our faith has faded, or has become just one more activity in a crowded life, instead of the very source of our life and all that we do, for, make no mistake, bolt-on, optional pick and mix Christianity is betrayal also.

Fortunately, the Cross tells us, I WILL NEVER DISOWN YOU, that we can always come back; we will always find “plenteous redemption in the blood that has been shed”, as the old hymn puts it, but none of that takes away our responsibility to amend our lives, to discover again, maybe for the first time even, what it means to be faithful, to be obedient. That way, and only in that way, can we pray, “forbid it Lord that this should happen to us.”

Fr. Edward Bryant

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