This evenings sermon doodle…
This evenings sermon doodle…
Westcott House is once again commissioning Stations of the Cross for churches and chapels across the city. This year, I have been allocated station 4: Peter denies Jesus.
“And he went out and wept bitterly”
Peter’s betrayal of Christ is deeply personal, yet he weeps on behalf of all our failures.
In the original charcoal image, we are invited into the raw immediacy of Peter’s experience by the charcoal fire.
In the digital print – created using a scanned image and some of the basic image manipulation features in Microsoft Word – we are invited to recognise the ease with which Peter’s sin can be duplicated, and the ordinary, daily ways in which we improvise upon his betrayal.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
“I had been lying in the hospital bed for far too long. I felt horrible, sticky, smelly, unwashed, unloved. And then one of the nurses (it was in the days when nurses were not as overworked as they are now) came and offered me a bath. I thought, ‘finally my dignity is completely gone’. But it was the most wonderful feeling. I didn’t leave the bed, but she quietly, gently and thoroughly washed me, head to toes. When she had finished, I felt ten years younger, and like I was the most special person in the world.”
“In my first year of being a priest, I was dreading the Maundy Thursday service. Although I knew that the congregation all wash their feet really well before they set off for the service, I just didn’t want to touch someone else’s foot. Feet are dirty, smelly, and basically private things – useful but not attractive. But in that moment in the service, I found that the 24 feet in front of me were somehow transformed into the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and in that moment I thought I knew what it must be like to look upon human imperfection with the eyes of God.”
In Sieger Koder’s beautiful painting of Christ washing Peter’s feet, we can see Peter’s hesitation in his left hand, even as he embraces Christ with his right. We recognise his reluctance because we have felt it ourselves, at one time or another. We resist being served, possibly even more than we resist serving others.
Why? Because so many of us assimilate and perpetuate a culture of independence that is deeply destructive of the human soul, and runs counter to all that God hoped for when he created us.
The bible may teach us that it is better to give than to receive, but in this story, we are taught that the economy of love is about interdependence: a network of giving and receiving, of serving and being served. If that were easy to grasp, Jesus would not have had to teach it to his friends so painstakingly.
In the painting we see the face of Christ only as it is reflected in the foot-dirty water. We are drawn to it, asking ourselves where it is and in what circumstances we can most clearly see the face of Christ. We are then further drawn to ask ourselves what happens to our own reflection when we engage in those situations and with those people. We might even look down at our own reflection and see the face of Christ looking back at us.