You Will Get Through This

      Comments Off on You Will Get Through This

For the four weeks leading up to and going beyond Easter, we’re looking at the life of Peter.  Because he’s so often at the center of both the brightest and darkest moments in the Gospels, he has always been a source of hope and inspiration for those endeavoring to follow Jesus.

On New Year’s Day 1929, Roy Riegels made one of the most famous plays in college football history.
Famous for all the wrong reasons. 
It was the Rose Bowl.  Georgia Tech squared off against the University of California at Berkeley.  Riegels, Cal’s All-American middle linebacker (then known as a “roving center”), picked up a second quarter GT fumble and took off.  Unfortunately, he took off in the wrong direction.  Cal’s coach Nibs Price unhesitatingly described Riegels as the smartest player he ever coached.  But in the chaos of the action on the field, Roy lost his bearings.  Instead of heading toward Tech’s end zone he barreled down the field toward his own.
He might have made it unless his speedy teammate Beany Lom – you can see him closing in on Riegels in the photo above – caught him at the three-yard-line.  Before Riegels could make progress back up the field, he was buried by Georgia Tech tacklers.
Moments later Cal attempted to punt the ball from deep in their own territory.  But the punt was blocked and bounced out of the end zone.  Tech 2, Cal 0.  That was the score at halftime.
In the locker room, Riegels put a blanket around his shoulders and buried his face in his hands.  Coach Price didn’t have much of a halftime speech for his players.  When the timekeeper arrived to say that the game would resume in three minutes, Price announced there would be no changes in who would take the field on defense.
Riegels sat motionless as his teammates filed out.  “Roy, didn’t you hear me?” Price asked.  “The same team that played the first half will start the second.”  Riegels looked up and said, “Coach, I can’t do it.  I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined myself, I’ve ruined the University of California.  I couldn’t face that crowd to save my life.”
Coach Price memorably responded:  “Roy, get up and go back out there – the game is only half over.”
Riegels played inspired football during the next two quarters, even blocking a Georgia Tech punt.  Cal nevertheless went on to lose the game 8-7.  It was impossible not to note that the safety that resulted from his mistake accounted for the final point differential. 
Roy promptly became “Wrong Way” Riegels.  For years he flinched whenever he heard those two words, no matter what the context.  Were people laughing at him?
Ultimately he decided to laugh at himself.  He parodied his errant run in Depression-era vaudeville acts.  He accepted a membership card into the Georgia Tech Letterman’s Club 42 years after the game, noting, “Believe me, I feel I’ve earned this.”  Roy also made a habit of writing notes of encouragement to others who had committed seemingly life-altering mistakes.  You will get through this, he assured them.
Simon Peter, son of John, could have used one of those notes.  He was also at the center of a famous story – famous for all the wrong reasons.
Peter denied his Master.  While sitting by the fire in the courtyard of the high priest, waiting to hear what was going to happen to Jesus, he spluttered three different times that he didn’t even know who Jesus was.
He had faltered on previous occasions.  He had opened his big mouth when he should have stayed quiet, had tried to talk Jesus out of following the path of redemptive suffering (and been called “Satan” as a result), had flailed with his sword at the moment of Jesus’ arrest, and had even fallen asleep earlier that same evening when he was on Prayer Watch. 
But this was different.  This was so much worse – quantum levels worse than any of his previous screwups.     
That’s because he had promised, in front of all the others, that he wouldn’t let Jesus down.  “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  I’m your guy.  I’m the Rock.  But Jesus wasn’t fazed.  “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:33-34). 
His telltale courage was clearly on display when he showed up at the high priest’s courtyard.  Where were the other disciples?  Hiding, presumably.  “Justice” in Roman times meant that if you were a known associate of a convicted criminal, you just might end up in prison or on a cross yourself. 
But when the moment came for Peter to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus, he folded.  It wasn’t because of the intimidating presence of a drawn sword or a threatening magistrate.  He was undone by the curiosity of a servant girl.  “You were with him, right?”  He denied it.  With curses.  Three times. 
Then he caught a glimpse of Jesus, who at that moment was being escorted by the courtyard.  Stricken, he fled the scene.  Then he cried and cried and cried.     
As we noted at the beginning of our series, Peter’s name is mentioned 120 times in Scripture – far more than any of the other disciples.  There are many Peter stories.  But only one of those stories is reported in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  It’s this one.
We can only conclude that this became The Peter Story because Peter himself wanted it to be that way.
And because, in the end, he knew that he was not defined by the worst moment of his life. 
He was defined instead by the fact that Jesus forgave him and restored him even after an unimaginable failure. 
On this Good Friday, you may be in the same place.  You wonder if you can survive that wrong-headed decision.  Or the foolish thing you said during the heat of emotion.  Or the aching memories of the relationship that you destroyed because of an act of betrayal.  Or your overwhelming sense that all hope is gone.
But you will survive.  You can get through this. 
What are the grounds for such confidence?  God isn’t finished with you yet. 
Besides, it’s only halftime. 
Get back into the game