Denial Before Dawn – Peter’s Story

I scramble up the steep path, my heart hammering wildly, a knot of fear tightening my throat. This can’t be happening. It can’t be! Ahead of us, the moving torches of the mob are nearing the crest of Mount Zion. Despite the distance between us, their voices carry far and clear on the cold night air. Theirs is a triumphant procession, punctuated with loud calls and bursts of laughter.

In contrast, John and I have doused our lamps and move silently, relying on the moonlight to cast its silver light on the path. Less than two hours ago we took the path down into the Kidron Valley, to the olive grove at Gethsemane. How can so much have changed in that time? Then the rabbi walked freely ahead of us. Now—bound—he is roughly shoved up the hill by Roman soldiers. Then we were all together, comfortable and drowsy after our shared Pesach meal. Now only John and I follow – the others have fled.

“Where are they taking him?” I whisper.

“Caiaphas probably.” He reconsiders. “Maybe Annas.”

Everyone knows that the Jews still consider Annas their high priest, even though he was deposed by the Romans years ago. His son-in-law, Caiaphas, is merely his mouthpiece.

“But why bind him?” The thought of it brings tears to my eyes. “He wasn’t resisting them.”

That had been my reaction, to draw a sword and fight. I recall the shocking gush of blood as my blade severed the man’s ear. His eyes had widened in terror. His scream had ripped through the night. It only stopped when Jesus touched and healed him—the rabbi’s tenderness undoing the violence I had wrought.

“We’re here,” John’s whisper interrupts the memory.

We stand paces away from an arched gateway built into high walls, above which I glimpse the darkened upper levels of opulent quarters. Through the gateway, I see a long courtyard bustling with soldiers, temple guards, scribes, priests and slaves. What are they all doing at the high priest’s house at this godforsaken hour? I’m about to ask John but he has already reached the gate and is speaking to the gate-keeper, who curtly nods him inside. I make to follow but she bars my way, her eyes narrowing suspiciously on me.

“What’s your business here?”

“I … I um … just want to …”. My words trail off. What am I to say? That I want an audience with Caiaphas or Annas? That I want to speak to the rabbi?

“No sightseers here,” she snaps. “The Sanhedrin is holding a trial.”

Trial. The word shudders through me. Reluctantly I turn away, letting my fingers graze against the rough stone wall until I reach a shadowed place from which to watch the gate.

A trial? Jesus is on trial? We know how much the Jewish rulers hate him. How often haven’t we tried to dissuade him from coming to Jerusalem? But he never listened. Almost as if he was driven to come. But why did he make such a scene in the temple four days ago? Why couldn’t he just have kept a low profile?

There’s nothing I can do. Still, I stand frozen in place, my thoughts dark and shifting as the night shadows. It is some time before I see John at the gate again. I step forward.

He sees me and calls, “Come, Peter!”

He must have spoken to the gate-keeper because she doesn’t bar my way again. Instead, she looks at me closely and says, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”

My heart lurches even as I desperately deny it.

The courtyard is quieter than earlier, the priests and scribes nowhere in sight. Several guards and servants still stand around a fire.

“They took him to Annas, who asked him about his teachings and followers,” John whispers. “Now they’ve taken him to Caiaphas.”

His followers? I want to ask John what Jesus said about us but the panic has momentarily stolen away my words.

John is still speaking, “… near the back. There’s room for you too.”

He wants me to go into the hearing—right into the lion’s den! I shake my head and say, “You go. I’ll stay out here.”

I wasn’t planning to join the group of guards and servants, but after some time I am drawn to the fire. I realise now how cold I’ve grown in the course of this long night. My cheeks are icy, my fingers ache to the bone and my toes are numb. The hiss and crackle of flames soothes me, as does the companionable murmur of voices, so like our own gatherings. Even the wood smoke, catching in my throat, reminds me of happier times. I silently rub the warmth back into my hands.

“You’re not one of the disciples, are you?” A voice breaks through the haze of calm.

The murmur of voices stops. Every face is turning towards me, some showing curiosity, others hostility.

“I am not!” I say with as much indignation as I can muster.

But a man steps closer, staring intently at my face. “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?” He turns to his companion for validation. “He’s the one who cut off my cousin’s ear.”

They know what I did. Gehenna’s flames! Will they grab me and drag me away too?

“I am not! I’ve never even met this Jesus!”

There’s a moment of strange stillness, almost as if heaven holds its breath.

Then a rooster crows, close and insistent, breaking the silence.

Breaking into the depths of me.

For I suddenly remember.

Sitting next to Jesus at our last meal, I said, Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you. I thought he would be pleased, but instead he said, Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.

Before the rooster crows.

Only then do I notice the group’s attention is no longer on me. They watch the priests and soldiers spilling from the high priest’s quarters. I turn, my gaze finding Jesus as he walks between two soldiers. The rabbi is looking at me and, in that moment, I know he heard the rooster crow. I see it in his eyes, for they reflect the same sorrow as when he told me I would deny him.

I run. Not to escape the wrath of the crowd or the hatred of the Sanhedrin. I run to escape that gaze and the knowledge of what I have done to him on the night he needed me the most.

Back in the shadows of the wall, I sink to the ground, my body wracked with sobs.

How could I have done this to the One who has done nothing but love me … and love me … and love me?

How could I have denied my Lord?

 

For additional Easter stories, read:

The Kiss, the Strike and the Touch (Story of Malchus)

Murderer in the Crowd (Story of Barabbas)

Voice in the Garden (Story of Mary Magdalene)

 

NOTES

Story based on John 18:1-27 and Luke 22: 33-34; 61

The disciple with Peter is unnamed in the Gospel of John. Several commentaries suggest it is John (as he always referred to himself in the 3rd person). Other commentaries think it is unlikely that John, a lowly fisherman from Galilee, would have known the high priest (therefore gaining access to the trial). They suggest it was another follower of Jesus.

Image by Free Bible Images

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4 Comments

  1. Brilliant, thank you Joan

  2. Thank you Joan. Beautifully put. It’s heart wrenching to relive what our Lord went through. But – Sunday is coming!

  3. Paula Hildebrand

    It made me examine my heart anew.

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