A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

19 Death I

19 Death I

The subject of today's sermon is death. There are many signs of death, and there are many TIMES of death. Death is a single moment of separation from earthly life, but death is also an attitude that pervades our daily lives, as a background vibration that hums in our ears from the very beginning of life. We will hear many comments, in this sermon, about life after death, but I confess that I am not that interested in that whole life-after-death scenario: we will talk about that next week.

Today, I'm not that interested in thinking about heaven. There are SO many different pictures given to us by people who have had near-death experiences, by people who soul travel, by people who channel visions, that I am sure that everybody's heaven is somewhat different; this not because existence after death is is different for everybody, but because, like on the earth plane, I'm sure there are many levels of heaven which attract birds of a feather, including some very high abstract levels, some comfortable medium levels that look kind of like Leave It To Beaver's middle America, and some hellish levels.

The world is filled with people who have a very specific idea of exactly what happens after death, and what their heaven will be like; but I don't have a good picture in mind, so it's not of interest to me even to attempt to paint one. However the moment of death, the significance of death in our daily lives, and the preparation for death is of extreme interest to me, and that is the focus of the quotes that I have assembled here to present and discuss. We begin with an assortment of Biblical  quotations including Old Testament prophetic statements, and some of New Testament comments on death.

Daniel 12:1-3-And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 - For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Psalms 115:17-18 - The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.  
[Sidebar: Interesting expression, "The dead praise not the LORD"--does this resonate with predestination?, i.e., are the living, praising the Lord ALREADY living life eternal? Are those pre-destined for death, ALREADY dead? Can those who live outside the radiance of divine consciousness someday partake of it, or is the silence, in which they live, destined to overtake them utterly?]
Proverbs 12:28 - In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death.

[Sidebar: One of the salient points of this sermon is that: to the righteous man there is no death, so why even talk about it?]
Luke 23:43 - And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

[Sidebar: I love this: this criminal seems to be the first of Jesus' guests in His heavenly mansion. Of course, I have heard the argument that there is a misplaced comma, and the scripture really reads: "Verily I say unto thee Today, (comma) thou shalt be with me in paradise.", that is to say, SOMEDAY you will be with me in Paradise. In this timeless spiritual universe, some people will quibble about anything.]

1 Corinthians 15:26 - The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

[Sidebar: we have heard Carlos Castaneda speak of death stalking us, as if death were our only true enemy. Perhaps facing death is the strategy by which we emasculate all of death's fearsome power to rob us of the vitality for living a righteous life.]

1 Corinthians 15:42-44
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

[Sidebar: we will hear this idea reiterated many times in the next few minutes.]
1 Corinthians 15:51 - Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

2 Corinthians 5:8 - We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 
Revelation 14:13
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

[Sidebar: Again, we are told that our deeds will follow us into eternity. Is this not an argument in favor of the interpretation of here and now as an eternal moment? because: if our deeds follow us into eternity, they must have partaken of eternity all along!]

Now we have a group of quotations from various historical figures on the subject of death. There are several poetic romanticizations of death, but I have chosen many others that point to a moral imperative suggested by death:

---Mark Twain
"Death is the starlit strip between the companionship of yesterday and the reunion of tomorrow."
Edgar Allan Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum
“In death - no! even in the grave all is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from the most profound slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterward, (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed.” 

[Sidebar: Many philosophers have referred to this earthly life as the dream, and to the awakening into the spiritual life as the reality. In a timeless universe, must we, ought we, or even CAN we, tell the difference?]

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life
“Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest, 
Was not spoken of the soul.” 

Kahlil Gibran
On Death
"Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death." 
And he said: 
You would know the secret of death. 
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. 
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. 
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; 
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. 
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. 
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour. 
Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? 
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling? 
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? 
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? 
Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing. 
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. 
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance."

[Sidebar: Again and again we hear, life and death are one, life and death are one! Is this a truism, or the actual truth?  The C.S. Lewis and Castaneda quotes below suggest the opposite--that life and death are NOT one, and that it is precisely the not-lifeness of death that endows it with such tremendous significance.]

C. S. Lewis
"It is hard to have patience with people who say "There is no death" or "Death doesn't matter." There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and the consequences of death are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn't matter."

Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.”

[Sidebar: The following extensive quotes from C.G. Jung touch on several important issues. not the least of which is the question of "belief".]

---C. G. Jung:
"I have often been asked what I believe about death, that unproblematical ending of individual existence. Death is known to us simply as the end. It is the period, often placed before the close of the sentence and followed only by memories of aftereffects in others. For the person concerned, however, the sand has run out of the glass; the rolling stone has come to rest. When death confronts us, life always seems like a downward flow or like a clock that has been wound up and whose eventual “running down” is taken for granted. We are never more convinced of this “running down” than when a human life comes to its end before our eyes, and the question of the meaning and worth of life never becomes more urgent or more agonizing than when we see the final breath leave a body which a moment before was living.

How different does the meaning of life seem to us when we see a young person striving for distant goals and shaping the future, and compare this with an incurable invalid, or with an old man who is sinking reluctantly and without strength to resist into the grave! Youth — we should like to think — has purpose, future, meaning, and value, whereas the coming to an end is only a meaningless cessation. If a young man is afraid of the world, of life and the future, then everyone finds it regrettable, senseless, neurotic; he is considered a cowardly shirker.

But when an aging person secretly shudders and is even mortally afraid at the thought that his reasonable expectation of life now amounts to only so many years, then we are painfully reminded of certain feelings within our own breast; we look away and turn the conversation to some other topic. The optimism with which we judge the young man fails us here. Naturally we have on hand for every eventuality one or two suitable banalities about life which we occasionally hand out to the other fellow, such as “everyone must die sometime,” “one doesn’t live forever,” etc. But when one is alone and it is night and so dark and still that one hears nothing and sees nothing but the thoughts which add and subtract the years, and the long row of disagreeable facts which remorselessly indicate how far the hand of the clock has moved forward, and the slow, irresistible approach of the wall of darkness which will eventually engulf everything you love, possess, wish, strive, and hope for — then all our profundities about life slink off to some undiscoverable hiding place, and fear envelops the sleepless one like a smothering blanket. . . . ."

[Sidebar: HOWEVER:]

"There are these peculiar faculties of the psyche that are not entirely confined to space and time. You can have dreams or visions of the future … only ignorance will deny these facts…These facts show that the psyche, in part at least, is not dependent upon these confinements. Then what? When the psyche is not under that obligation to live in time and space, alone, and obviously it doesn't, then, to that extent, the psyche is not subject to those rules; and that means a practical continuation of life, of a sort of psychical existence beyond time and space.

Belief is a difficult thing for me--I don't believe--I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis, if I know a thing; and if I know it, I don't need to believe it. But when there are certain reasons for accepting certain hypothesis, I shall accept it naturally.

For, seen in correct psychological perspective, death is not an end but a goal, and life's inclination towards death begins as soon as the meridian is past."

[Continuing, on the subject of belief, Rudolf Steiner makes this contribution:]

---Rudolf Steiner: Metamorphoses of the Soul, Vol 1: Lecture 6: Asceticism and Illness – Berlin, 11th November 1909:

"We must not assume that everything which looks like blind faith is so. For example, we are told that in the old Pythagorean Mystery Schools  there was a familiar phrase: The Master has said. But this never meant: The Master has said, therefore we believe it! For his students it meant something like this: The Master has said; therefore it demands that we should reflect on it and see how far we can get with it if we bring all our forces to bear upon it. To “believe” need not always imply a blind belief springing from a desire for self-annihilation. It need not be blind belief if you accept communications springing from spiritual research because you trust the researcher. You may have learnt that his statements are in strictly logical form, and that in other realms, where his utterances can be tested, he is logical and does not talk nonsense. On this verifiable ground the student can hold a well-founded belief that the speaker, when he is talking about things not yet known to the student, has an equally sure basis for his statements."

[Below, Joseph Campbell poo-poos the whole idea of life after death (although, elsewhere, I have heard him speak affirmatively on the subject). The point here, once again, is that an overly intense interest in death can only compromise the intensity with which we live our lives, and an overly hysterical fear of death negates the whole acceptance of the eternal moment that we may enjoy in the here and now.]

Joseph Campbell
"I think the idea of life after death is a bad idea. It distracts you from appreciating the uniqueness of the here and now, the moment at which you are living. For example, if you think that when you die, your parents will be there and you'll live with them forever, you may no longer appreciate the significant moments that you share with them on earth.
Every moment is unique and will not be continued in eternity. This fact gives life its poignancy and should concentrate your attention on what you are experiencing now. I think that that is washed out a bit by the notion that everyone will be happy in heaven. You had better be happy here and now. You'd better experience the eternal here and now.....
If you concretize the symbol of heaven, the whole situation disintegrates. You think for example, that eternity is there and your life is here. You believe that God, the source of energy, is there and you are here and that he may come into your life or he may not. No No - that source of eternal energy is here - in you - now"

[I'm not sure if the following Aldous Huxley quote has any point to it, but it is definitely funny:]

---Aldous Huxley
"A belief in hell, and the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton, have never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor."

The following article proposes some realistic strategies for dealing with the prospect of death in the here and now:

Steve Pavlina.com
What can we reasonably say does NOT happen after death?
Obviously what's "reasonable" will differ a bit from person to person based on his/her context and beliefs, but I think most of us can agree on some fairly basic observations.
First, you can't take it with you. All your physical stuff stays here. Whenever someone dies, we notice that their stuff remains in the physical world. It doesn't suddenly vanish.
Another thing we notice is that our physical bodies stay here. That includes our heart, lungs, brain, hemp tattoos, etc. 
Also, it's fair to say that because the physical stuff stays here, then any knowledge and skills you've developed which are rooted in the physical world will become obsolete when you die. Your knowledge of HTML probably won't be of much use in the afterlife, unless of course there are dead computers in the afterlife too, such as my old Atari 800. I hope you still know BASIC. 
If we can take anything with us after death, then, it would have to be something non-physical in nature. And the non-physical part of ourselves is our consciousness. You can call it other names if you wish -- soul, spirit, etc. The exact term you use doesn't really matter. I'll use the term consciousness.

So we have a couple alternatives that seem reasonable to me:
1.    After we die we retain some part of our consciousness, but all the physical parts of our existence are lost.

[Sidebar: We really need to think about the scope of the word "physical" here. Our senses are able to detect certain frequencies of light, color, and sound, certain levels of pressure, and certain intensities of smell; but it is well-understood (from evidence provided by our huge arsenal of electronic gadgets) that there are frequencies of light that we cannot see, frequencies of sound that only dogs can hear, etc. If we can discern such fine gradations of matter in a photon, why is it so far-fetched to suggest that the soul, though invisible to our eyes, is still not, in some sense, a PHYSICAL entity?

Consider the neutrino, as described in Wikipedia:
"A neutrino (/nuːˈtriːnoʊ/ or /njuːˈtriːnoʊ/) is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with half-integer spin. The neutrino (meaning "small neutral one" in Italian) is denoted by the Greek letter ν (nu). All evidence suggests that neutrinos have mass but that their mass is tiny even by the standards of subatomic particles. Their mass has never been measured accurately.
Neutrinos do not carry electric charge, which means that they are not affected by the electromagnetic forces that act on charged particles such as electrons and protons. Neutrinos are affected only by the weak sub-atomic force, of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and gravity, which is relatively weak on the subatomic scale. Therefore a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded."
[Therefore a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded.]
"Neutrinos are created as a result of certain types of radioactive decay, or nuclear reactions such as those that take place in the Sun, in nuclear reactors, or when cosmic rays hit atoms. There are three types, or "flavors", of neutrinos: electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos. Each type is associated with an antiparticle, called an "antineutrino", which also has neutral electric charge and half-integer spin. Whether or not the neutrino and its corresponding antineutrino are identical particles has not yet been resolved, even though the antineutrino has an opposite chirality to the neutrino.
Most neutrinos passing through the Earth emanate from the Sun. About 65 billion (6.5×1010) solar neutrinos per second pass through every square centimeter perpendicular to the direction of the Sun in the region of the Earth.

In 1942 Wang Ganchang first proposed the use of beta-capture to experimentally detect neutrinos. In the 20 July 1956 issue of Science, Clyde Cowan, Frederick Reines, F. B. Harrison, H. W. Kruse, and A. D. McGuire published confirmation that they had detected the neutrino, a result that was rewarded almost forty years later with the 1995 Nobel Prize.
In this experiment, now known as the Cowan–Reines neutrino experiment, antineutrinos created in a nuclear reactor by beta decay reacted with protons producing neutrons and positrons:
e + p+ → n0 + e+
The positron quickly finds an electron, and they annihilate each other. The two resulting gamma rays (γ) are detectable. The neutron can be detected by its capture on an appropriate nucleus, releasing a gamma ray. The coincidence of both events – positron annihilation and neutron capture – gives a unique signature of an antineutrino interaction."
The bottom line concerning neutrinos is that we cannot see them, we can just see where they have been. It's a lot like faith. It's also a lot like ghosts.

If science can detect and manipulate a particle as invisible as a neutrino, what might it someday accomplish on the frontier of spiritual reality? I am not suggesting that spirituality is merely or ONLY a finer grade of physical reality--no, I am convinced that spiritual entities like the will and consciousness exist in a completely other, higher, abstract dimension of existence-- I AM suggesting that there are gradations along a continuum of interlocking dimensions about the scope of which we still have not the slightest clue.

Back to Pavlina:]
"So we have a couple alternatives that seem reasonable to me:
1.    After we die we retain some part of our consciousness, but all the physical parts of our existence are lost.
2.    After we die we cease to exist. Our consciousness gets wiped out along with the physical. Dead and gone forever.

Life After Death
I can think of many other options which are variations on these two. You can twist and reword these basic ideas into different forms, and you can speculate endlessly about what it would be like to experience option 1 (such as a precursor to reincarnation), but I think this is what death basically boils down to. Either we continue to exist in some non-physical state of consciousness, or we don't. 
Now which one of these general options is most likely true and correct?
Certainly we can unearth pieces of evidence that may favor one side or the other. We can look externally and examine things like near-death experiences and those who claim to channel dead people and so on. We can look to ancient texts and other people (living or dead) for guidance. Or we can look within ourselves and attempt to intuit the truth.
Personally I've done plenty of both looking within and looking without, and so far it hasn't really given me a satisfying answer. I found enough evidence to partially convince me that option 1 is more likely correct than option 2, but there are still a number of holes that leave me with doubt. Given what I know about beliefs, I always have to wonder to what degree I may be finding what I expect to find at any given time.
This uncertainty about death presents a serious problem though. In order to live my life in a manner I feel is intelligent, I'd really prefer a clear answer here. If I know that option 1 is correct, (after we die we retain some part of our consciousness) I'm going to live my life very differently than if I know option 2 is correct (after we die we cease to exist). I can't do both at the same time because they seem incompatible. I'd set different goals on one side vs. the other. 
Living in a state of uncertainty doesn't quite work either. Uncertainty in this particular area gives me a poor basis for making intelligent lifelong decisions. It's fine that I'm uncertain about what the weather will be like next week. But uncertainty about death itself makes long-term planning nearly impossible unless I lower my consciousness, watch a lot of TV, and subscribe to the social context without thinking for myself. Think about it -- if you knew with absolute and total certainty what will happen to you after death, would it change how you're living your life today?

[Sidebar: Faith and the Cloud of Unknowing enter the picture at this point. This author goes on to say (in a certain sense) that the certainty of faith is a necessary component in a healthy, positive attitude toward death; and this is the point that we are wending toward: the mind's attention is more powerful than any other force in the universe when it comes to creating reality.]

"Remaining uncertain in this area is a suboptimal choice -- it's better to decide one way or the other and be wrong than it is to remain uncertain and do nothing. Too much doubt in this area will produce the worst outcome of all. In order to intelligently decide how to live, we need to have a reasonable understanding of where we're headed. We can still live OK without this certainty, but we couldn't really say that we're living intelligently, since we'd have no basis for knowing if our decisions would ultimately turn out to be smart or foolish in the long run. . . . 
I think the main reason I found it so difficult to understand the possibilities beyond death is that I was coming at it from the wrong perspective. I was trying to understand certainty from the perspective of doubt and skepticism. And that turned out to be a mistake because doubt cannot create certainty -- it can only perpetuate doubt."
[Sidebar: We have spoken elsewhere of the purpose and benefits of doubt, so it would be easy to get into a quarrel with that last sentence—but, for now we will let it go, because this next argument is extremely clever, and justifies cutting the guy some slack:]
"So I had to change my perspective to experience these options from the inside looking out. I considered the perspective of option 1 (after we die we retain some part of our consciousness)  looking at option 2 (after we die we cease to exist) and vice versa. So I put myself into a state of certainty looking at another state of certainty. As another analogy, you'll gain more information by looking at Catholicism from the perspective of atheism (and vice versa) than you will by looking at both of them from the perspective of agnosticism. Those side views are the key to discovering what is true for your consciousness."
[Sidebar: I find this argument extremely imaginative, and pregnant with potent possibilities. Identifying with an argument is the next best thing to BEING the argument--and from the perspective of BEING, all doubts are dispelled; this is a proper definition of faith: living within the confines of a proposition such that, regardless of all external realities, the inner reality is true. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Voila! Instant faith!]

"Ultimately, I realized that the simple truth here was that of free will. Once I understood the perspectives of both options 1 and 2, I had all the information I needed to make a choice. But it wasn't really a choice between which option was provably correct from an external point of view. None of the options were externally provable because consciousness is not subject to the scientific method. Consciousness works on an entirely different level. So at this level, the real "truth" was to apply my own free will to decide what I wanted to be true for me... what I wanted to make a part of my own consciousness. Did I want to choose to live in accordance with option 1 or option 2? There was no externally right or wrong answer. It was simply a matter of choice.
[Sidebar: Is it really true that there is no right or wrong answer? Is not the simple matter of choice rather the simple matter of accepting who you are, and allowing predestination to fill in the blanks? By that I mean, this author is offering to subject his attention to the machinations of the Cloud of Unknowing, and we know that within that cloud all paradoxes are resolved, and the simple truth sets us free. The choice is not between right and wrong, it is between faith and reason.]
"So I chose option 1, the branch which suggests that conscious action and growth continue even after death. And part of the reason I chose this to be my own truth was that I realized that it's the most intelligent choice I can make no matter what the reality of death turns out to be. Even if we all go to oblivion when we die, it's still the most intelligent choice to live with the belief that we are immortal conscious beings. That belief will actually yield a more intelligently lived life, one that is dedicated to the greatest good of all. It will promote and enhance the survival of all humans. Where the scientific method fails, choice must fill in the gap. And that choice can be either certainty or doubt. But in order to understand this great choice, we must experience both the certainty and the doubt to know what we're really choosing.
[Sidebar: recall my previous comments on the virtue of doubt. This sentence, "we must experience both the certainty and the doubt to know what we're really choosing", is practically word for word what C. S. Lewis AND Kierkegaard said; as I recall, the sense was that the DOUBT is necessary to make the FAITH real.]
"It is entirely up to us to choose a life of greatness or to choose a life of nothingness. I think this is what Helen Keller meant by the quote, "Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." It is our personal choice that makes it so. Choose doubt and get nothing. Choose certainty and greatness results.
To sum it all up for you, here's why holding the development of your own consciousness as your highest priority in life makes sense:
1.    Developing your consciousness will give you the tools to understand life and death much better, which will help you decide how to live as intelligently as possible.
2.    Developing your consciousness will help you escape pain and create tremendous pleasure for yourself, so if you ultimately go to oblivion, at least you'll fully enjoy your life along the way. It will also help you transcend the fear of death.
3.    If you die and find yourself frozen in a certain state of consciousness, it probably won't be so bad because you'll have developed your consciousness as much as possible while you lived. You'll have done the best you can to prepare for this possibility.
[Sidebar: This is, of course, the same as the Hindu philosophy, and the direction of Jesus to "pray unceasingly".]
4.    If you die and find that you're able to continue developing your consciousness after death, then your human existence will have given you a great head start. And if I get there first, you'll immediately be able to subscribe to the feed for "Personal Development for Dead People," and we'll continue growing together as spirits in the ether. Won't that be fun?
5.    Developing your consciousness will ultimately cause you to live in such a manner that raises the awareness of other people around you, helping to transform the world into a better place for everyone. So this is in fact the best way to live if you wish to be of service to all of humanity."
[Sidebar: Raising the consciousness of people around you would not necessarily be a "service to all of humanity" if there is no life after death, but we can let that go.]
"For these and other reasons, I believe the most intelligent thing we can do with our human lives is to pursue the development of our own consciousness. Now perhaps we can't take our consciousness with us either, but at the very least, it's the only thing that even has the potential to continue with us after death. . . . 
My highest priorities as a human being are rooted in what I feel is permanent. If I'm able to continue on after I die, my to-do list would essentially remain the same. I would only need to change the form of the most important items but not the intention behind them. Whether I'm dead or alive, my purpose remains the same: to grow and to help others grow in consciousness. Only the manner in which that purpose manifests would change. To me the service of the highest good is to devote my life to the service of consciousness itself, regardless of whether I exist as a physical or an etheric being.
To me this is the highest degree of personal productivity -- to adopt a context for living that even makes sense from the perspective of beyond the grave, to live here on earth as a timeless being instead of a mortal one. How many of your current goals and dreams seem shallow and lifeless when viewed from this perspective? Do you live for what is permanent or for what is ephemeral? Is your human existence devoted to the servicing of dust or the realization of destiny?

I like this piece quite a bit; in spite of the the author's sometimes weak powers of reasoning, he still manages to express some crucial arguments in support of spiritual reality, in a quasi-scientific language. Next week we will hear more of this kind of thing going all the way back to Plato, and up to David Bohm.

In the meantime, let us remind ourselves that our character is largely a by-product of the attitudes we bring to the table of reason when all things spiritual are under discussion. Death may be a final reality for some, but to the the devotee on the spiritual path, it is just one more idea we must incorporate into out attention on the infinitude of God.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for your invitation to join you in a place of many mansions. Let us see heaven with enlightened eyes, and let the centerpiece of all our horizons be your loving face. Amen

Sunday, October 13, 2013

18 The Denials of Peter

18 The Denials of Peter‬

Call to Worship:
Matthew 18:13-27:
“Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in. “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter. He replied, “I am not.” ... As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.”
Many times, in the past few decades of my life, people have flaunted in my face, this popular cliche: “it's never too late”. As I have gotten older, I have found this to be less and less true: I have found that many, many chances in life have simply come “too late”. As much the Pollyannas of this world would like it NOT to be so, there comes a point, in every arena of human activity, when it is just too late.

It is a crushing moment indeed, to discover that it is too late: too late to retrieve a career, too late to retrieve a marriage, too late to retrieve a professional opportunity, too late to retrieve a bonding moment with a child, too late to cultivate certain potential abilities. If, as I have suggested many times, there are, indeed, discrete levels of consciousness spread out on an infinite vertical continuum, it is not difficult to imagine a threshold that separates the "not too late" from the "too late". In fact, I used to know a guy in Los Angeles who was fond of talking about damnation--about how you would know you were damned at the precise moment it was too late to do anything about it; that there is, in spite of our perception of the universe as a network of infinitely undulating gradations, some articulate, ultimate point of no return.  I have had many such moments of "it's too late" realizations. There are many, many things that can progress to a point of “too late”, and we’re just kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.

Thus, as the cock crew, and Peter stood confronting his own guilt, his own failure to live up to his vocal convictions, the despair of “too late” must have pierced his heart. To profess a love so profound that you would die for it, that you would do anything for it, and then to find that the slightest pressure of danger was enough to deflate your empty promises, reducing them to ashes, must have been a deeply humiliating and bitterly disappointing moment for Peter.

The word "humiliating" is a central concept in this sermon. Humiliating in the sense of: “to make humble”. We're not going to deal so much with the human frailty and weakness that led to Peter's denials, but we must look deeply at the humiliation which followed the moment when it was too late. We must consider what was too late, and what wasn't.

In a timeless spiritual universe what must it mean to be “too late”? Well, I don't know about the spiritual world, but, in THIS world, Jesus set a deadline for Peter. "When the cock crows you will have denied me three times", He says. The cock crowing is the deadline. With earthly life we have many such deadlines, the final one being death. Death pretty much punctuates our earthly career with a definite finality. If we have not made good on our promises to remain faithful, if we have not found our spiritual identity by the time of our death, I would say we're in fairly serious trouble. The shadow of death pursues us our whole lives, because, at any moment, it can confront us with the moment of “too late”; getting prepared for that moment should be the primary focus of our earthly life’s activities, because the moment of “too late” or “not too late” is created in every moment of the here and now.

The Hindus place great stock in this idea: that wher your mind is, at the instant of death, determines your future reincarnation; they believe that only by constantly thinking positive spiritual thoughts, only by constantly viewing God in the third eye, can they possibly be prepared for the moment of death, when the panic, the fear, and the disorientation, of the great transition, may distract them and shift their attention from the preoccupations of righteousness, to those of groveling, faithless sin. Thus, does Jesus instruct us to “pray unceasingly”; for our days of reprieve on this earth may be snatched away in an instant, without warning or mercy. The deadline of death is the test of our faith just as the deadline of the cock crowing was the deadline for the test of Peter's faith.

Hold that thought.

Now, let's talk about grace. We all know that, if we are late turning in a library book, they sometimes extend to us a "grace" period. We know that if we haven't got our income tax forms together on time, we can file for an extension. Indeed, there are many earthly situations in which a deadline is extended, because the authority knows that human frailty can cause people to miss their deadlines. Thus, in a certain way, grace can be thought of as the cavalry coming to the rescue of a faithless person who had always intended to get it together, but who kept putting it off until it reached the moment of “too late”. Does grace erase the deadline? Does grace make “too late” “not too late”? Does Jesus’ ransom not only pay the debt of original sin, but also the sin of “too late”?

I'm reminded of the scenario in C.S. Lewis' Perelandra where our hero, Dr. Ransom is told that if he is unwilling to resist the Satanic menace with his own body, God will have to offer an even more terrible sacrifice than the sacrifice of Jesus' blood on the cross. The point being that God is willing to take a moment that is "too late", and through His surpassing love transform it into a moment of "not too late".

It is worth considering. Let us look deeper into the comments about Peter with these ideas in mind.

From Wikipedia:
Denial of Peter
“All four Canonical Gospels state that during Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples, he predicted that Peter would deny knowledge of him, stating that Peter would disown him before the rooster crowed the next morning. Following the arrest of Jesus Peter denied knowing him thrice, but after the third denial, heard the rooster crow and recalled the prediction as Jesus turned to look at him. Peter then began to cry bitterly. This final incident is known as the Repentance of Peter. Both the denial and repentance incidents have been the subject of major works of art for centuries.

According to the Gospel of Matthew:
"Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same."
Later that night, Jesus was arrested. The first denial to a servant girl in Luke 22:54-57 is as follows:
"Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. Peter followed at a distance and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said."

The second denial to the same girl in Mark 14:69-70 is:
"When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." Again he denied it."
The third denial, to a number of people, is emphatic as he curses according to Matthew 26:73-75:
"After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly."
The Gospel of Luke 22:59-62 describes the moment of the last denial as follows:
"About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly."
Peter was one of the twelve disciples most closely associated with Jesus. His denials are made in the face of accusation that he was "with Jesus", the term indicating the bond of discipleship. The Gospel of Matthew states that Peter denied Jesus "in front of everyone", thus making a public witness. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew stresses the importance of public witness as an essential element of discipleship, stating in Matthew 10:32-33:
"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."
Peter's denial is in direct conflict with the nature of discipleship, as described by Matthew. 
The New Testament descriptions of Peter's denial depict the drama of the incident. Peter's antagonists in the discussion of his discipleship progress from a maid, to a maid plus a bystander, to a whole crowd. His denial progresses from a plea of ignorance, to a denial plus an oath and then to cursing and swearing with a total denial that he ever knew Jesus. The sound of the rooster then brings a shock to Peter that Jesus had predicted the three denials. 
This episode has been seen as an incident that sheds light on the unique role of Peter and sets him apart from the other disciples, just as in the Gospel of Mark 16:7 in which the angel tells the women to "go and tell his disciples and Peter" about the resurrection of Jesus. In this episode, as often elsewhere in the Gospel of Mark, Peter acts as the focus of the apostles, and an essential Christological image is presented: the denials of Peter contrast with the frank confessions of Jesus in his trial by the Sanhedrin, portraying his faithfulness as prophet, Son and Messiah. 
Referring to the tears shed by Peter during his repentance in the context of the Sacrament of Penance, Saint Ambrose said "in the Church, there are water and tears: the water of Baptism and the tears of repentance". Traditionally, "tears of repentance", as exemplified by Peter, have become a symbol both of mourning and comfort: a sign at once of sins repented and forgiveness sought. 
In art
The episode has been the subject of works of art for centuries. The subject was sometimes included in cycles of the Life of Christ or the Passion, often as the only scene not to include the figure of Christ.
This medieval mosaic, from the Basilica of Sant'Appollinaire, highlights the moment of "too late" by featuring the rooster:

Caravaggio's Denial of Saint Peter, is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Author George Weatherhead admires Caravaggio's depiction, the way Peter exhibits a wavering trepidation in his unsteady features, conscious of the unworthy falsehood he was telling. His lips quiver and his eyes seek, yet can not find the firmness of truth. In this painting Caravaggio portrayed the servant girl using the same head of the woman that he used in his depiction of The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

In Rembrandt's depiction, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, he presents the servant girl who recognizes Peter with a candle, illuminating Peter's face. Two soldiers look with suspicion as Peter speaks, while Jesus is shown in the distance, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. Peter's faces away from Jesus, and he gestures with his left hand, although his expression is free of defiance.

The following is tank from Catholic Apologetics with Edge:
Monday, June 4, 2007 Why did St. Peter Deny Jesus?

"One of the most misunderstood incidents in the New Testament is the denial of Jesus by St. Peter on the night of his arrest. Many commentators see this as an act of cowardice on St. Peter's part where St. Peter denies Christ in order to save himself from arrest.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The denials were for a very different reason.

Let us study exactly what happened.

St. Peter like the other Apostles believed Jesus to be the Davidic Messiah-King who would free Israel from pagan bondage. He expected Jesus to lead the Jews to victory over the hated Roman occupation.

When Jesus told St. Peter that it would be necessary for Him to suffer and die, the conversation went like this:

Matt 16:21-25:
"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you."
"But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. "

At the Last Supper, Jesus and St. Peter had their last conversation before Jesus' death. Jesus prophesied that:

Matt 26:31 ...
"You will all be scandalized because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'"

But St. Peter would have none of it:

Matt 26: 33
"Peter answered and said unto him, Though all [men] shall be scandalized because of thee, [yet] will I never be scandalized."

{The Greek verb that I translate as "scandalized" is skandalizō which has the meaning "to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey".}

Jesus responded:

Matt 26:34-35:
"Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times."
Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." And so said all the disciples."

After the Last Supper, Jesus and some of his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Luke 22:38 makes it clear that the disciples had two swords with them. When the cordon of Temple Guards -- at least a dozen armed soldiers -- came to arrest Jesus, only one of the disciples raised a sword in his defense: St. Peter (John 18:10). The disciple with the other sword ran away. St. Peter alone took up arms against a group of professional soldiers in Our Lord's defense. It was only when Jesus told him to put the sword down that St. Peter withdrew (Matt 26:52). These were hardly the acts of a coward who feared for his personal safety.

Nor do his actions afterwards show cowardice. While the rest of the disciples hid in fear, St. Peter and St. John followed the mob as they took Jesus to the High Priest's House (John 16:15ff). Why had St. Peter come? Did he intend to testify on Jesus' behalf. No! He kept his identity secret. Was he afraid of being captured. NO! For if he were he would hardly follow Jesus all the way into the house. It was a risk that he had to take.

The only logical explanation for his actions was that he was there waiting for an opportunity to set Jesus free by stealth or force. He believed Jesus to be the true King of Israel and St. Peter was prepared to fight to free Him so that He could overthrow the Romans and their puppet Tetrarchs."

[Sidebar: This author makes an interesting point: He says that Peter must not have been afraid of being captured by the Romans, because in the garden of Gethsemane he was the only disciple who stood up for Jesus--he smote off the ear of one of the 12 or 15 guards who had come to collect Jesus; it is thought that one, who acts thus, cannot have been afraid. Therefore, his denial of Jesus was not out of fear, it was out of stealth, it was that he was lying in wait for an opportunity, like James Bond, to free Jesus from the Romans.

Martin Luther makes the same point:

“And his actions, indeed, show this to have been his intention. For in the hour of greatest peril, when the Jews were taking captive the Lord in the garden, Peter was the first to draw his sword, and he slashed into the mob, notwithstanding that he and only one other armed person opposed so many who were well equipped. Now who would have believed that one so valiant, who so faithfully stands, by his Master, would so soon afterwards shamefully betray Him?”

We can imagine Peter, concealing his sword under his cloak, trying to sneak up behind the guards to free Jesus, and being held back by a crowd of people who keep saying that he's one of the disciples--first one, then another. As Jesus slips further and further away Peter curses in frustration to get them to leave him alone, so he can get to Jesus. Imagine his fallen face as Jesus is carried away inside the house ultimately beyond his reach--too late. Remember the look on Jesus' face in the Rembrandt painting.

Back to Catholic Apologetics with Edge:]
"Matt 26:75:
"And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly."

Why did he then go out and abandon his plans? Why did he weep? Was it because of fear. No.

St. Peter realized that Jesus had warned him that He was not the conquering Messiah, Son of David, but the suffering Messiah, Son of Joseph, from Jewish legend who would suffer and die for his people as it said in Isaiah 53. St. Peter was clinging to his messianic dream of monarchy and glory but this was not to be fulfilled at that time.

His dilemma reminds me of a famous news quotation from the Vietnam War. During the Vietnamization program, the people of the village of Ben Tre were re-located to a government settlement and their village was burned to the ground. A newsman who witnessed this asked what was happening and an American Major responded:

"It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

This is what happened to St. Peter. It became necessary for him to deny his Lord in order to save him. St. Peter realized the contradiction in that. If he really believed in Jesus, he had to let Him suffer and die. The only way that St. Peter could have interfered was if he did not believe all the things that Jesus had told him."

I don't think this scenario is completely without its problems, because Peter wept, and we don't necessarily know why. Just as when Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, we can suggest many possible reasons for these tears. The generally accepted explanation is that Peter wept tears of humiliation and shame after denying Jesus. Catholic Apologetics thinks otherwise--that they were tears of realization that Jesus was not the conquering hero but the suffering Messiah. But perhaps they were merely tears of grief at having missed his slim chance to free Jesus from His captors. Perhaps he wept for joy because he thought it was so cool that Jesus could see into the future, that Jesus could not only predict the crowing of a cock, but that He could predict His own capture and conviction.

The bottom line is that Peter’s three denials of Jesus did not lead to the liberation of Jesus, and they did not lead to honor for Peter as a hero who would die at his master's side. It is a complex situation with many paradoxical arguments of pro and con. Perhaps the bravery displayed in the dark of the garden was dispelled by the firelight outside the walls of the Jews; perhaps Peter’s courage failed him with the ongoing night, the tiredness, and the increasing size of the mob surrounding Jesus, bringing with it the impending, sobering, crystallizing possibility of capture and crucifixion. Nevertheless, we can see in all these scenarios, that it was a moment of severe conflict for Peter, and that he was definitely backed up against a wall on which “too late” was graffittied in bright red paint.

It is not a trivial point that the rock Jesus chose, on which to build his church, was the same man who exhibited extreme human frailty at a crucial moment. The humiliation the Peter must've felt brought him to the lowest possible point of his emotional life not the say his spiritual life. It is thought that this low point represents the birthplace of the true humility that was necessary to steadfastly lead the newborn band of Christians into the future.

It is not unlike the parable of the lost sheep. Remember, the lost sheep is the one who screws around the most, who cavorts up by the outer edge of the herd, and finally gets left behind. It is the lost sheep whose antic misbehavior causes such tremendous turmoil and difficulty for the Shepherd, who must leave all the 99 behind to search for that one sheep. Peter is certainly such a lost sheep because he has strayed from the fold, has cursed his master, has betrayed the trust not only of Jesus but of the rest of the 12, possibly for the mere sake of protecting his own body from Roman abuse; and yet he is the rock upon whom Jesus intends to build his church. Thus, as in the moral of the lost sheep parable: the lost sheep is the one who is worth risking all to save, because he is the one who has the qualities which are outside the conventional mold of the herd. Therefore

The following section from the article Inconsistent Christians develops this point:

"Peter is without doubt the most prominent apostle, as well as the most perplexing. Jesus clearly gives him extra attention and a leadership role, changing his name from Cephas, “the pebble,” to Peter, “the Rock.” The Catholic Church regards Peter as the Prince of the Apostles, the first Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on earth and even though the name would not have been used at that time, the first pope. He is regarded as a saint, as are all the apostles. But there is only one Basilica at the Vatican, and it is St. Peter’s. Peter is the only individual on whom Jesus ever pronounced a blessing, giving him his own private beatitude. “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah,”
Jesus says to Peter.

And then in that same incident Jesus gives him the “keys to the Kingdom.” In Catholic doctrine Peter is the one on whom the church would be built. When Jesus came to the disciples in the storm on the Sea of Galilee walking on water, it was Peter who
challenged him saying, “if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” When Jesus did, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked upon the water himself. And he was one of the inner three disciples, along with James and John, who accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane and at other private moments.

And yet, for all of that, for all of his moments of triumph, Peter had some of the most spectacular crash-and-burn failures. It is almost like there were two different Peters, as if he had an evil twin. He walked on water, yes, briefly. But then, when he looked around at the wind and waves, lost faith and sank and had to be rescued by Jesus. He can be forgiven for that. After all, it was his idea, and no one else in the boat even tried it. But there is that other incident, his most prominent failure, the one he is remembered for by nearly everyone. It happened on the night that Jesus was arrested when Peter, warming himself by the fire in the courtyard, three times denied knowing Jesus or being one of his followers, finally cursing and saying, “I do not know the man.” And Peter may be the only one to whom Jesus ever said, “Blessed are you,” but he is also the only one to whom Jesus ever said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

That’s pretty rough. Satan personified! The mouthpiece of the devil, the spokesperson for all that was antithetical to Christ and his mission. In Mark there is no elaboration of the temptation in the wilderness as there is in Matthew and Luke. But here Peter seems to be standing in for Satan, once again tempting him, testing him, suggesting that maybe he didn’t have to suffer after all. And Jesus reacted to that with anger. Poor Peter. Capable of great spiritual insight one moment, confessing that Jesus was the Messiah, and in the next moment becoming a mouthpiece for the Devil."

And again, from a sermon by Martin Luther:

"Who in the world would have expected such instability and feebleness in Peter! When the Lord, in Luke 22., cautioned him, saying, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,” how courageous was he not, how bold and undismayed! "Lord," said he, "I am ready to go with you, both into prison, and to death." And when the Lord continued to admonish him, telling him not to be so foolhardy, and that before the rooster would crow twice he should have denied Him thrice, we see that Peter thought it all a fable. He imagined this impossible, and intended to adhere to and defend the Lord at the risk of his own life. And his actions, indeed, show this to have been his intention. For in the hour of greatest peril, when the Jews were taking captive the Lord in the garden, Peter was the first to draw his sword, and he slashed into the mob, notwithstanding that he and only one other armed person opposed so many who were well equipped. Now who would have believed that one so valiant, who so faithfully stands, by his Master, would so soon afterwards shamefully betray Him?

In the garden no one attempted to hurt Peter and his fellow disciples, for the Lord's "Let these go" protected them. And especially here in the house of Caiaphas no one desires to injure them. But when, altogether incidentally, and perhaps through sympathy, the damsel that kept the door said to Peter: "Are you not also one of this man's disciples?" his courage failed him, and he feared that he would have to share his Master's fate if he should answer yes, and, therefore, he denies that he is a disciple. And when he was accosted on this point the second time and the third, he began to curse and to swear, calling upon God to visit upon him His wrath if he had ever known or seen the man.
Let us pay due attention to the conduct of Peter, so that we may learn properly to know ourselves and other people, and to beware of presumptuousness. For if such a denial of faith can proceed from Peter, who, above all the other disciples, had a heart filled with loyalty and love for the Lord Jesus, yea, who was so enlightened by the grace of God that even Christ said unto him: "Blessed are you, Simon, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven," and that He gave to him the name Cephas, "a stone," how much more easily can not such denial come from us poor mortals, who are much inferior to Peter in point of gifts, and, in all other respects, much more faint and frail?

Be on thy guard, therefore; be not irreverently bold; think not that you have climbed the mountain and are out of danger; remember that your flesh is totally corrupt! Neither does Satan slumber, but walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whose heart he may trouble and whom he may cast down or even devour. Therefore, be vigilant; live in the fear of God; build upon His grace alone, and in Him repose your trust and confidence! And let that which Jesus spoke in the garden to Peter, James and John, "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation," be spoken also unto you, that you may neither snore nor be falsely secure, as though there were no danger and no need for fear from here on out, but that you may watch and be sober, not doubting that your archenemy is close at hand, yea, that you bear him in your bosom! You would, therefore, be lost, should God not stand by you with His Holy Spirit. You can neither govern nor restrain yourself one single hour. Therefore, say: I will pray God to give me His Holy Spirit, that He may rule and rightly lead me, and either ward off disturbance and temptation, or else graciously aid me and suffer me not to fall!"

This is the first point presented by our narrative. Under this head, however, appropriately comes the solemn admonition of the Lord, given in the 21st chapter of Luke: "“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness;" for we are just as ill-bred as the brute, which, when well fed, shows its insolence. He who has plenty and to spare, readily forgets God and His Word, or else cares very little for them; and then, before he knows it, he is entangled in the devil's net. Therefore, if you would be out of danger, observe these three things: fear God, be watchful and sober, and pray without ceasing! For, although we must still feel temptation's thrusts, and sometimes fall because of weakness, God, through His Holy Spirit, will lift us up again, and not suffer us to remain victims of temptation.

In the second place, we find consolation in this narrative. Here we clearly see the fruit of our Lord Jesus' sufferings; and Peter's conduct plainly pictures to us not only the grace and mercy of God but also the way in which grace may be regained by us when lost in unrighteousness and sin. Terrible and heinous is the fall of Peter; as such he feels it most forcibly, and, therefore, he cannot longer bear to mingle with men, but steals away and weeps bitterly.

But here we find that the Lord not only foretold to him his fall, but afterwards also received him into favor without punishing him as his sin had deserved. For on Easter, before the Lord Jesus had shown Himself, the angel who was at the grave commanded the women to announce to His disciples, and to Peter especially, that the Lord had risen. And the Lord Himself, soon after He had appeared to Magdalene and the other women, appeared to Peter and comforted him. This all works together for our consolation, teaching us not to banish from our hearts confidence in God's grace, though we may have fallen, but, seeing how the Lord deals with Peter, to be assured that He has died on our account, and that His sufferings shall bring us consolation and assistance, although we are poor sinners. For if sinners are not to have the benefit of the sufferings of Christ, then He would have rejected His disciples, and particularly Peter, first of all, and nevermore have interested Himself for them, because they were all offended because of Him, fled from Him, and so shamefully denied Him. But the merciful Lord does not so; they are still His dear disciples, notwithstanding that they disgraced their calling. Let us mark this and apply it to our hearts for consolation; for thus will our gracious God also deal with us."

The following is from freelancetheology.com/2005/03/26/peters-denial/

"We may feel that Peter is the person we are most like, but it is our calling to follow Jesus and do the things that he did. So, it’s worth considering that this is an example of what we are often called to do. In the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, one of the characters called Lucy Pevensie experiences betrayal. Lucy is in the magical world of Narnia, on an island ruled by a magician. She goes into the magician’s house in search of a spell and she finds another one, which allows her to see what her friend in the real world is doing. She sees her friend on a railway carriage with two older girls from school and with a shock she realises that they are talking about her. One of the girls asks Lucy’s friend if she’ll be “hanging around with that annoying Pevensie kid this term” and Lucy’s friend says “No.” Lucy is distraught and really angry. She can’t wait to get back to the real world and accuse her friend of betraying her. It takes the divine lion Aslan to point out to Lucy that she was spying on her friend, which is also wrong, and that her friend only said those things because she felt intimidated by the two older girls. Lucy has to learn not only forgiveness, but a willingness to accept her friend despite everything that was said.

It would be easy for us to draw the conclusion that Jesus forgave Peter and everything was all right again and that’s how we should act towards people who let us down. But we have to go further. It’s not enough just to ‘forgive’; we also have to restore. That is difficult and frankly impossible if the other person shows no remorse. But where there is repentance, a genuine ‘sorry’, then if we are trying to emulate Jesus we have to allow that person back into our circle of trust. Sometimes we may feel that trusting someone who has let us down is a huge risk. By way of encouragement, risk-takers tend to lead more exciting lives, so don’t be put off by risk.

The flipside is that when we let someone down, we have to allow them to forgive us. Often we do this with God. We let God down and then feel that there is no way back, that we can never amount to anything, that we’re frauds leading double lives and that no one will listen to us talking about God because we’re such rubbish Christians. But if we are given the chance, and I think we are all given the chance, then we should always take another shot at it. There’s an old saying that if you learn from defeat, then you don’t really lose."
Thus, Peter's humiliation on the occasion of his denials was a defeat from whose very jaws he snatched a victory. The moment of "too late"became a moment of graceful forgiveness and renewal. In the world of men, Peter's defeat was indeed a failure to meet a deadline, but in the world of Spirit his defeat prepared the way for transcendence and liberation.

Let us pray: Jesus, if only we could claim the grace to so easily forgive all our sins as Peter did after his betrayal of You. It makes us think the bigger they are, the harder they fall--or, perhaps, the greater the sin the greater the forgiveness. It is a wonderful thought. Let us lose ourselves in this wonderment, and let us glory in the amazing grace that transforms "too late" into, "just in time".