From denial to love, times three

A new Easter hymn highlights the risen Christ’s question for Peter and for us

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). — Rural Explorer/Unsplash Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3). — Rural Explorer/Unsplash

A new hymnal brings the joy of discovering songs that refresh our worship and enrich our faith. Voices Together, published by MennoMedia in 2020, is new enough that much remains to be discovered.

One that many of us haven’t heard before — No. 344, “Seeking Warmth from Charcoal Blazing” — is a beautiful addition to the Easter repertoire. With a 2009 text by Jacque B. Jones, it’s a before-and-after Easter story that recounts Peter’s pre-­crucifixion shame and post-resurrection redemption.

Seeking warmth from charcoal blazing,
Peter fought the chill night air.
Someone spoke, “I saw you with him.”
Peter said, “Not me. I swear.”
Two more times was Peter questioned,
two more times he answered “No!”
Then from deep within the shadows
came the promised rooster crow.

Every follower of Jesus who has struggled and failed to be a faithful disciple knows how Peter felt. The world tests our belief, and we withdraw in fear. Our fragile loyalty ­crumbles at the slightest challenge. ­Exposed as hypocrites, we face the truth that we are nothing but whitewashed tombs. We look on in shame as Jesus is led away to face the cross alone.

We and Peter are deniers of Jesus.

The story resumes sometime later, in a world that has changed.

Bread and fish, a fireside breakfast
for a weary fishing crew.
Jesus queried, “Do you love me?”
Peter said, “You know I do.”
Two more times his master questioned,
two more times did Peter vow.
“Feed my lambs,” was Jesus’ bidding.
“Tend my sheep; they need you now.”

How many times since Jesus’ resurrection had Peter silently confessed his denial? Was his amazement at the risen Jesus clouded by guilt?

How much time had passed since ­Jesus’ miraculous appearances — first to Mary Magdalene, then twice to the disciples? There is much we do not know.

But, as John 21 sets the scene, it ­appears that Jesus’ friends have resumed their work as fishermen — and, on this day, not successfully.

After helping them haul in a great catch, Jesus has unfinished business with Peter.

Knowing Peter’s secret shame, Jesus invites him to reverse the threefold ­denial. Three affirmations — “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” — place Peter’s contrition in symmetry with his sin.

The atonement is complete, but Jesus extends Peter’s restoration beyond forgiveness. Peter receives a new commission: “Tend my sheep.” The fisherman is to become a shepherd.

We and Peter are lovers of Jesus.

Questions asked and answers given,
timeless faces warmed by flame;
bitter night of love’s denial,
with the dawn redemption came.
We still hear these ancient voices
and the lesson that they give.
“Do you love me?” is the question
meant to guide us as we live.

Having confronted his sin, Peter is forgiven — and ordained for a task beyond his apparent ability. But the ­assignment is no mistake, because Peter has been made new.

We, too, are made new at Easter. Jesus, the risen Christ, has scoured our hearts as he did Peter’s. He stands ready to forgive our denials and assign new tasks. The stranger on the shore who made a fisherman into a shepherd still changes lives today.

Peter had returned to his boat and net, but Jesus called him to bigger things. The summons began with a question: “Do you love me?” This Easter, when Jesus reminds us of his resurrection, he asks us this question and in­vites us to discover where the new way of life will lead.

Singing this Easter hymn might inspire the discovery.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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