He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!’
Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not!’ Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting, ‘Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about!’ At that moment, while he was still speaking, 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.
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
The image of those disciples sat round a fire, has really struck me this year.
Jesus has been seized and led away, with Peter following at a distance no doubt to see where he was taken. After all the upheaval, and still reeling, the disciples sit around a fire and Peter returns to them.
We get a sense that others in the community must have witnessed what happened, as it seems they are keeping their own beady-eyes out for anyone connected with this Jesus character. Over the space of an hour, as the disciples warm themselves in their fear and shock, three people recognise Peter – and he denies Him – and the cock crows.
I cannot say that I would do any different, were I seeking reassurance with my friends around a fire after witnessing the one I follow being forcibly arrested.
Would I be next on the list? Next to be taken? Next to be judged and killed?
“I do not know what you are talking about!”
Whilst this is a moment for us to lament the overwhelming fear or indifference that causes us to deny those that our culture and way of life condemns to death, it is also a moment to know deep in our hearts that Jesus does not condemn us.
Jesus didn’t betray his disciples and he doesn’t betray us, even in his great fear. He doesn’t betray the lost and lonely, the fearful and oppressed. Jesus stays with us around the fire or in an upstairs room with a towel around his waist, sharing our fear and anxiety and he will stay with us even if it means his death.
It is as if we forget that we sang ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’ just a few months ago. ‘God is with us’ and nothing changes that, not even the events we know are to come…
O God, O Come, O come, thou wisdom strange from deep within God’s womb to range the earth at midnight’s hour of fears to make us wise beyond our years. Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God shall leap with light that rouses us from sleep.
O Come, O come, thou healing host around whose table none can boast, who welcomes home the stigmatized, their rightful place now realized. Rejoice! Rejoice! By touching hand together all in God shall stand.
O Come, O come, Emmanuel, God-with-us here and now to dwell, at one with our humanity, in whom we find our destiny. Rejoice! Rejoice! The human face of God with us shall interlace.
Verses taken from ‘Expectant: Verses for Advent’ by Jim Cotter, 2002
The Rev’d Martin Knight is Minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon.