Quite a number of years ago, before I married Kirk and still lived in California, my home church offered a special meditation experience on Holy Saturday -- the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the disciples still mourned and sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened, grieving the loss of their Lord.
The main sanctuary of the church was cleared of everything except six or seven stations set in different areas around the room. The lights in the room were off, except for a few candles lit here and there and some lights shining directly on the life-size wooden cross upon the stage, which was draped in red cloth.
There was a station for confession, where you could enter a booth and confess your sins to a pastor. There was a station for holding colored glass stones in prayer and then casting them into a bowl of water, as though casting your sins away and trusting they would sink to the bottom of the ocean. There was room on the stairs of the stage, leading up to the cross, where you could kneel or bow and pray for Jesus, or pray for yourself.
There was also a station for meditating on the different figures in the passion story, learning whose reaction to Jesus was most like what your own might be.
When I sat inside that station, I was surprised to learn that I most identified with Peter. It might make sense to you, given what I wrote recently about my shyness and shame at proclaiming the name of Jesus out loud throughout most of my life, but it was a new moment of insight for me to realize I would have done the exact same thing he'd done: in a moment of truth and persecution, I would have denied my Christ.
When you read the story of Christ's passion, it's so easy to point fingers at Peter, isn't it? That is, until you realize you are him.
And so for many years now, I have held Peter's response to Jesus with great sympathy -- and even gratitude. Jesus loved Peter to the end. He also forgave Peter and still trusted him to lead and shepherd those who followed Jesus. He also used what happened to further Peter along in his needed development. I've been thankful for the breadth of Peter's story because of what it has taught me about the way Jesus also loves me.
But more recently, I would have told you that I believed I'd finally grown past being Peter.
For instance, a couple weeks ago, in a Sunday morning forum at my church, we were talking about the crucifixion moment. Our rector, Father Rob, asked what our response to that moment might have been if we'd been standing right there before Jesus. What did we think we would have said or done or thought or felt?
I felt an impulse to grasp Jesus on the leg as he hung there on the cross. Just so he would feel less alone. Just so he could feel the touch of someone who loved him. Just so he could know that someone who loved him was me.
That impulse didn't strike me as very Peter-ish. And so I started to think I had changed.
And maybe I have.
But last night, do you want to know what happened?
I slept through my alarm clock.
The alarm clock that had been set for 2:40 a.m. The alarm clock that was set so I could wake, get dressed, and drive to my church for a prayer vigil in which I'd signed up to pray from 3-4 a.m.
I had signed up a week ago, and I could hardly contain my excitement to participate in this event. There are many observances of Holy Week happening at my church this week, but this prayer vigil seemed like the most special offering of all. What intimacy, what silence, what "being-with-ness" it offered between us and Jesus in his final hours.
But then I slept through my alarm.
When I awoke at 3:45 and realized I'd missed my slot, I knew in that moment that I was still Peter. And I knew it even more when I stayed in bed the next 45 minutes, vacillating back and forth, drifting between awake and asleep, while trying to decide if I would get out of bed and drive to the church anyway.
But I chose to stay in bed. I chose sleep. Just like Peter did in the garden.
But the story doesn't end there.
I woke at 8:30 a.m. this morning. At five minutes to 9, I decided that I was going to drive over to the church after all and participate in the vigil from 9-10 a.m.
And so I went.
It wasn't easy to be present to Jesus when I arrived. As glad as I was to have chosen to go, all I could feel was my shame.
When I first arrived, I sat in the far back corner of the chapel, far from the altar and the icon of Jesus. I sat there and felt my humiliation.
But the longer I sat there, the more aware I became of my distressing need for Jesus. I wanted to confess to him. I wanted to plead before him for his forgiveness and his love. I wanted to say I was sorry.
So I went up and knelt before the icon and looked into his eyes -- the eyes in which one eye seems to take in the whole world and the other seems to look right at and through you. I stared at that one eye staring back at me and repented.
And he reminded me of these words he'd spoken to the religious leaders just days before his death in Jerusalem:
"What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?"
They said to him, "The first."
-- Matthew 21:28-31
It occurred to me that I was doing his will in being at the vigil after all, even if I'd arrived six hours after I'd originally committed to being there.
It occurred to me that Jesus was glad I was there.
It occurred to me that I'd lived out real repentance in this place of my story -- turning around, going in the opposite direction, choosing the true and good thing.
I'm thankful for it.