"Three times, you may deny me, as Peter, before the cock crowed two...."
I was still in high school when I penned these lyrics, working the song over and over in the lounge of my home church in Pemberville, Ohio.
As is common with vibrant teens, my heart was longing for a just-out-of-reach love focus, and it was all mixed up with my faith language, in the traditional (although I didn't yet know it) vein of pietist poetic verse.
And these interchanges between Jesus and his disciple, Peter, had always held my fascination. In one of the King James Gospels the archaic "thrice" was used for three times and I latched on to that word, and from there the story, not of betrayal, but of denial and disappointment. I supposed this echoed my own life more than the out-right betrayal by Judas, and seemed a little more "acceptable" even thoguh it was really a "I'm scared and I'm going to try and lie my way out of danger" story.
So after all this is predicted and occurs, we then hear what Jesus didn't speak in the story so directly.
"...but I'll still love you."
Three Times (listen)
As I began playing this song for the worship around the tables in the fellowship hall of the church where my spouse is pastor, my mind simultaneously flashed through 40 years of Maundy Thursdays and other performances of this song:
Singing with Beloved, a youth singing group from my home church, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran, from beside the choir loft, the first time it was sung in worship—on Maundy Thursday.
In concerts with Beloved, including a set at the Lutheran Youth Encounter (LYE) Congress in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Sharing the song with the LYE team who came and worked with our youth group for a summer week of faith and fun, and then hearing that they took the song back and sang it for the final gathering of all the summer youth teams where it was a hit. (!)
Singing this song on a television interview program, taped in an actual television studio in Columbus, Ohio, (although the interview was for a college class on television production.)
And then (I believe) in every congregation I've been affiliated with throughout college and seminary, in Columbus, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Fort Collins and San Mateo for 40 years.
And as we sang the song last night, feet and hands were being washed as a sign of service, which some people call the other sacrament commanded by Jesus in the gospel of John; voices were raised in a reminder that even though we fall away, even though we deny, even though our courage falters...
...that love remains and holds us.
After publishing this post, I learned that YouthEncounter, the subsequent name of Lutheran Youth Encounter, is closing its doors on April 3rd. While I am sad to learn this news, I am also grateful for their service and inspiration since 1965.
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