‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Simon Peter said to him,
‘Lord, where are you going?’
‘Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterwards.’
Peter said to him,
‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’
‘Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.
Peter’s foretold denial of Jesus appears in all four Gospels. John’s account places this in the Upper Room; the other three place it slightly later in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts also echo the other Disciples’ resolve. We know what happened next: Judas betrayed Jesus; Peter denied Jesus; the other 10 ran away! The intimate meal they had just shared was thrown into chaos with a revelation of imminent betrayal; emotions ran high.
As Christmas approaches, TV soap-opera producers will already have filmed the explosive Christmas episodes, where some surprise revelation over Christmas Dinner will have the characters’ lives similarly thrown into chaos. Personal revelations can be life-changing for both the individual and the family. In the congregation where I serve as an Elder, many who come to us – myself included – have experienced similar when we ‘came out’ as lesbian or gay. For some, this led to fleeing their countries for their very lives; for others, estrangement from family.
Probably because we are so familiar with Jesus’ Passion narrative and that the four accounts blend into one in our minds, it is easy to overlook the verses unique to John’s account: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” Here, the Greek uses ἀγαπᾶτε – ‘agape’ (sacrificial) love.
The brokenness we experience often stems from failure to love: others, God, even ourselves. In the middle of that painful scene in the Upper Room, Jesus focuses on love. Despite Peter’s denial, we know later from John 21 that Jesus restored Peter, where Jesus again focused on ‘agape’ love. Jesus’ command to love allows us to move beyond the denial and live once more.
Risen Christ, Your miracle in us in Your constant forgiveness. Risen Christ, You take us with our hearts just as they are. Why think we must wait for our hearts to be changed before we go to you: You change them. Your voice comes to bring light to our darkness, and the river of praise opens up within us.
(Prayer: Brother Roger of Taizé)
Walt Johnson is a serving elder at Wilbraham St Ninian’s, Manchester.