By Jaime Sherman
Peter awoke to an eerie stillness on this Saturday in the year A.D. 33. His had been a restless sleep mixed with nightmares and sleepless hours of vivid memories from the past week.
The triumphant procession through the Kidron Valley.
The overturned tables in the temple.
The cursed and withered fig tree.
The tense interactions between Jesus and the religious leaders.
The long hours of teachings and prayers.
The anointing of Jesus’ body with expensive perfume.
The foot washing.
The new celebration with the unleavened bread and wine of the Passover feast.
Superimposed on these scrapbook moments was an endless stream of images and sounds around a blazing charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest. A trio of denials, a rooster’s crow, and a look from Jesus flashed through Peter’s mind as the Lord’s words echoed in the stillness: “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”
Peter wept again in the stillness, alone that Sabbath morning with his thoughts of failure and fear. The body of his Lord lay in a tomb. This was no dream from which he would wake. After boasting he would never deny his best friend, he had been a coward, afraid of a servant girl. The warmth of the charcoal fire had been a welcome relief for Peter as Jesus was led into the home of the high priest to be questioned, but then the blaze had allowed the girl to clearly see Peter and declare, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” In fear, Peter eked out, “I don’t know what you mean.”
And then he’d deny the association two more times before a rooster crowed loud and clear, sounding first light. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. The words, which were meant to prepare Peter for this moment, came rushing back: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Peter was emotionally wrecked. The story he would later tell of the crucifixion would point out his failures, not heroic action to protect Jesus, or even to emotionally support Him. In fact, after running from the charcoal fire, Peter disappeared from the narrative of Good Friday. He wasn’t there at the cross to support those he loved, and he didn’t help bury the body of Jesus. No, when Jesus breathed His last, Peter was in hiding, alone with his tears.
Peter had left Jesus in a similar state in the hours before His arrest. As Jesus cried out to the Father in prayer from His favorite spot in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter kept falling asleep — once, twice, three times, and then it was too late. A rag-tag, angry band of soldiers, who had been rounded up to haul Jesus before the religious leaders, had arrived. Brandishing their swords and clubs, they seized Jesus, and in a moment characteristic of Peter, he responded rashly. He must have thought he was big, brave Peter the Defender, for pulling a sword from its sheath in his belt, he swung at Malchus, a bondservant of the high priest. But he failed. He tried to defend his friend by being someone he wasn’t, and he only succeeded in slicing off the man’s right ear. So much for being a good swordsman. All he had done was raise a greater ruckus.
Now, on this Saturday morning, Peter huddled like a lost sheep separated from his shepherd, unsure where to go and what to do next. He had devoted three years of his life to following Jesus from town to town, telling of God’s love, feeding thousands, bearing witness to healings, and listening long to new teachings from the One who had become his best friend. He felt lost and alone — and physically afraid — now that his shepherd had been killed upon a criminal’s cross.
Today we know how the next chapters in Peter’s life unfolded, how Jesus would not stay dead, and how Peter’s story would become one of fortitude instead of failure, but on that day stretching dark between Christ’s crucifixion and the joy of the first Easter morning, Peter likely placed many questions before God in prayer that we often echo.
Where are You, Lord, in this moment?
How can I move forward after something like this?
What do you have next for me, for my family, for those I love?
Because we know Peter’s story, it’s tempting to rush to the empty tomb to celebrate. We all appreciate a happy ending to a story, a bow neatly tied, but sometimes it’s good to sit in the stillness of a day heavy with unanswered questions, holding them up to the Lord, trusting Him with tomorrow. So, let’s do that today as we reflect on the death of Jesus, and then, Lord willing, we’ll return to Peter’s story tomorrow morning.
Jaime Sherman crafted the narratives in this Easter weekend series from her study of the Gospel accounts of the week leading up to Jesus’ death, from research of the history and geography of Israel, and from personal observations surrounding the eyewitness accounts, which are provided for today’s story in Matthew 21:1-17, 26-27, Mark 11:1-19, 14-15, Luke 19:28-48, 22-23, and John 12-13, 18-19.