Tag: Gospel of John

Sermon: Training The Rock for the Hard Place


[Yesterday’s sermon!]

Why did Peter deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed?
Zoom makes this a rhetorical question; if you were people in pews rather than pictures on my screen, I could get answers. Still, I  imagine that most of you are saying to yourselves, to your companions, or to the empty air: “Because the guy was frightened.”
That’s obvious, isn’t it?  The gospel writers—-all four of them tell this story—-don’t have to spell it out for us: Peter is petrified.  He’d just seen Jesus grabbed, manhandled and dragged off to the high priest’s house. All the other disciples had taken to their heels in terror.
Peter’s fear is so obvious and his reaction is so human and predictable, that it’s easier to identify with Peter than to condemn him. I’d guess that very few of you are thinking “what a sniveling, fibbing coward!”
Though perhaps one or two of you are wondering just what good it is to believe in the power of Jesus if even one of his own disciples, who knew him in the flesh, would fall into terrified apostasy at the first sign of danger?
Moreover, though this seems a distinctly secondary moral failure, you might have noticed that Peter also just flat out lied. Didn’t Jesus say that all the laws still applied? A commandment, after all, is not a jot or tittle but a pretty big deal.  Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness! but Peter did.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to see ourselves in Peter, to recall our own moments of shameful cowardice. If Peter failed so completely…and yet was tapped to be the rock on which Jesus would build his Church…well, it’s encouraging, isn’t it, and reassuring and humane.
But since every Bible story has more than one lesson to teach, I thought we’d dig a little deeper into the story of Peter and his throuple denials this morning.
But first, I want to talk about what happens when people get scared.

There is a new book out called From Here To There by a guy named Michael Bond. He writes about human navigation,  not just when it works but also when it fails.

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper


This very large fresco has been a secret for most of its history. It was painted in the 1440s for the cloistered nuns of Santa Apollonia in Florence, which is why it was very rarely seen by outsiders. Eventually, it was covered in plaster, which is why it’s so well preserved, unlike the scenes above it. We have it rediscovered only since the suppression of the nuns by the military in the 1860s, and can now marvel at the poetic effect it achieves and see in what its greatness consists. Indeed, authorship itself was unwittingly a secret, but that, too, has been resolved. The last secret, not likely of resolution, is the story of the author. Castagno is little known except by slander and by his works, and the slander is not honest either. The most famous chronicler of Renaissance Italy, Vasari, offers a great big lie of a story accusing him of murdering another painter out of jealousy–so far as anyone can tell, the lie is meant to explain the dramatic quality of Castagno’s painting–his characters have no softness about them. Art history could step in to help us in our time of need, explaining what painting looked like before him and afterward, but that’s too much of a distraction. We can only attend to the mysteries in the painting itself.

This last supper is one of a rare number of paintings that articulate the mystery of the stories in the Gospels in a quiet way, through the technique. It strikes me that some such paintings make far more of a claim for their makers’ craft than you might expect of wall-painters who merely painted stories everyone already knew–the development of technique seems to be tied up with a reflection on what we believe. So I will first point out the Gospel elements of the painting and then look to what the painter added. You can see the Gospel of John, chp.13 faithfully followed in John lying on Christ’s bosom as Christ blesses him; in Christ’s having just given Judas the piece of bread that identifies him as the betrayer; in the confusion of the Apostles; and in Peter’s inquisitive intimacy. Piety is aided by the names that identify the Apostles. The Christian abhorrence of Judas is such that he’s depicted across the table–he does not confront us–his posture means he cannot look at us. On the other hand, it means, he’s closest to us of the gathering…

Advent Gratitude: The Liturgical Year Begins as Darkness Grows


shutterstock_251257738“the glory is fallen out of / the sky the last immortal / leaf / is // dead and the gold / year / a formal spasm / in the // dust / this is the passing of all shining things” … into the night so dark no night could be darker than, the cold so cold, no cold could be colder than; the journey through “The mile still left when all have reached / Their tether’s end: that mile / Where the Child lies hid.”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overmaster it. But neither has light overmastered the darkness: lights do not shine in darkness unless darkness predominates; when there’s mostly light, we see the darkness as residual shadows, not as the ambient state.

Darkness is in one sense the enemy of God, of Christ who is Light, whose dawn at Easter irreparably shatters the dark of death and hell, the light of the eighth, eternal day, shining for all days before and after: