But what about Peter?” asked my son DeForeest as we returned from the Easter Vigil Mass many years ago.
I’d started telling him about Jesus from the time he began to talk. By the age of three he was familiar with the Gospel and showed interest in its supporting cast. I sometimes aided his imagination with occasional vocal characterizations for the various apostles, Pharisees, centurions and townsfolk who wander in and out of Scripture.
Preparing DeForeest for Holy Week we went over the events of the Passion, including background on Peter, John and Thomas, Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary of Bethany. As a prelude to Easter I told him how Jesus had rescued Lazarus from death — making sure to refer to Martha’s down-to-earth comment that, after four days in the grave, her brother’s body “must surely stinketh” the way older translations put it. As hoped, I was rewarded with a gale of laughter.
Continuing through the Last Supper and trial we came to Peter’s denials. DeForeest had known Simon Peter as a rollicking, friendly and loyal companion. But, hearing of Peter’s three denials on that cold spring night as he warmed himself by the fire in the high priest’s courtyard, my son grew dismayed, shocked that Peter’s final denial came, says Mark, with “cursing and swearing.” Mark took his Gospel from Peter’s own preaching so it’s likely that this pungent detail came from the tough-talking Apostle himself.
I told DeForeest how Luke, the gentlemanly historian, omitted Peter’s rough language but added a wrenchingly poignant incident. Simon Peter’s final denial came with Jesus under guard, being duck-walked across the courtyard. Luke reveals that it wasn’t the crowing of the rooster that reminded Peter of Jesus’ prophecy at dinner. It was when “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered” (Luke 22:61). Only then did the words, “Before cock-crow, you will deny knowing me three times,” flood into Peter’s memory.
Jesus’ glance was no mournful, pitying gaze as paintings and films often depict the moment. The word in Greek means “to observe intently.” Hearing Simon Peter’s repudiation with his own ears, Jesus reacted in a very human way as he was paraded past the Galilean fisherman, deliberately turning round to shoot a sharp glare at his friend. In the eyes of Jesus, Peter saw the reflection of a great, blustering coward.
Overcome with shame Peter fled, shedding hot, acrid tears. For the rest of his life, he would carry the odious recollection that he denied Jesus to his face.
I told DeForeest the rest of the story, how Jesus was cruelly executed to reconcile all people to God and then, after three days, majestically rose from the dead as a pledge that we, too, will rise in our glorified bodies.
The boy nodded impatiently. “But what about Peter?” he demanded.
I thought a moment and told how Jesus’ uncle, Cleophas, and a friend were walking to the village of Emmaus that first Easter morning and met the Lord on the road. After Jesus revealed himself they dashed back to Jerusalem with the news, “The Lord is risen!” only to hear the apostles reply, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” I explained that “Simon” was Simon Peter; that Jesus made a special visit to him before the others; but that’s all we know about the episode.
“Well, I know,” DeForeest said matter-of-factly. “Jesus visited Peter to let him know that he forgave him for being afraid. Jesus would do that because Peter was his friend.”
From the uncomplicated mind of a child came a deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
I told DeForeest that the greeting, “The Lord is risen!” with its Gospel countersign, “The Lord is risen indeed!” is used in many parts of the world as a greeting during Eastertide.
“Why don’t they add ‘and hath appeared to Simon’? It’s important to remember that Je-sus forgave Simon Peter for not being a friend,” my son decided with impeccable three-year old logic. The explanation that the addition would complicate the greeting’s meaning satisfied DeForeest not at all. He was adamant that “and hath appeared to Simon” be part of the reply since it is in the Gospel.
For 26 years, although it is now by phone, each Easter Sunday morning I waken DeForeest with, “The Lord is risen!” I always get a sleepy smile with the happy reply, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!”
Thus a beloved family tradition was born. Thus was begun an appreciation of the Easter message of forgiveness and reconciliation.
To all Catholic parents everywhere — children are never too young to learn about Jesus, their devoted friend who loves them so much. It is never too soon to start faith-filled traditions with them.
So go, thou, and do likewise.
Sean M. Wright, an Emmy-nominated television writer, is a Master Catechist for the archdiocese of Los Angeles; he replies to comments sent him at Locksley69@aol.com.