Gallicantu means ‘cock-crow’ in Latin and is the name given to a church in Jerusalem built over the traditional site of Caiaphas’ palace. Caiaphas was high priest when Jesus was arrested and crucified. It is here that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed in the morning.
The reflection that follows was given in the 2pm SLT service in the Cathedral on Tuesday. The readings were Psalm 9 and Luke 22:31-38.
I imagine everyone who visits the Holy Land, which Christians there prefer to call ‘The Land of the Holy One’, brings back different memories. They may visit the same places but what resonates with them will be different for each person. God meets us as individuals – how much more so in the land where his Son walked as a human being.
Of all the many places I visited it is the church of St Peter in Gallicantu on the eastern slopes of Mount Zion which has made the biggest impact on me. Gallicantu means cock-crow in Latin and the church commemorates Peter’s denial of Jesus and his later remorse. It is built over the traditional site of the palace of Caiaphas. Beside it runs the steep path that leads across the Kidron valley to Gethsemane.
There is a sculpture in the courtyard showing a column with a cock on top of it. At its base Peter is sitting by a fire with a maid and a Roman soldier beside him. The inscription says Non novi illum: I know him not.
What journey brought Peter to that point?
There were so many wonderful events to recall. ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ How could he and Andrew do otherwise than follow this wonderful man who called them? As Peter listened to Jesus’ teaching it became apparent that this was no ordinary rabbi.
How many rabbis could raise a child from the dead? But Peter saw it with his own eyes; Jairus’ daughter brought back to life at a word from Jesus.
A picnic lunch shared among a huge crowd. How was it that Peter could break that piece of loaf and yet it never ran out? How many eager hands did he fill? How many times did he rub his eyes in amazement? The basket he held at the end was full to the brim with pieces of bread.
And after that the night time storm on the Sea of Galilee. How frightened Peter and all the others had been, even more so as a ghost came across the water to them. But it was no ghost, it was Jesus. Had Peter really walked out across the sea in that storm? How could it have happened? But it did.
Then the walk to Caesarea Philippi and the question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter couldn’t contain himself. The answer burst forth without restraint: ‘You are the Christ!’
Like a distant rumble of thunder in the hills around the Sea of Galilee, the first warning that all was not well came. Jesus talked of his suffering and death. How could Peter restrain himself this time either: ‘This shall not happen Lord!’ It was unthinkable, intolerable. To hear himself called Satan shocked Peter to the core.
Yet six days later all the darkness fled as brilliant light flooded the top of Mount Tabor and Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah. The light didn’t last long. Again and again Jesus taught his disciples that he would suffer and die. Like clouds gathering before a storm, these warnings filled Peter with foreboding.
It wasn’t possible to dwell on such things as Jesus rode in triumph into Jerusalem. The crowds cheered and waved. At last King Jesus was revealed.
After days of sparring with the Scribes and Pharisees and giving dire warnings about the future, Jesus finally turned his attention to happier things. Peter helped prepare for the Passover that the disciples shared with Jesus in the upper room. But even that feast was overshadowed with talk of body given and blood shed. Even worse, talk of betrayal.
Finally all the darkness seemed to gather up like a great wave on the sea, threatening to overwhelm Peter. ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.’ Never, never would it happen. Never would he deny his Lord. It couldn’t happen. ‘I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’
How had Peter managed to sleep in Gethsemane? Why hadn’t he stayed awake to comfort and pray for Jesus? When the time of the arrest came where was his bravado? What happened to his promise? The best he could do was follow at a distance.
Back up the path from the valley Peter went and followed to the courtyard of the high priest’s house. Still his courage failed him. Three times he was challenged. Three times he could have owned up to being one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times he denied he knew Jesus. ‘Woman, I do not know him.’ ‘Man, I am not.’ ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’
The cock crowed. Jesus turned to look at Peter and Peter remembered: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ Peter left the courtyard and sought the cover of darkness where he wept as though his heart would break.
The story doesn’t end there. In fact it was only beginning. Many days later Peter was asked by Jesus three times ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Three times he answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
‘Feed my lambs.’
‘Tend my sheep.’
‘Feed my sheep.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor