Penance Service: Good Friday
(The Penance service is held on Good Friday evening, as a short introduction to individual confessions)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Father of all mercies, like the prodigal son we return to you and say:
“We have sinned against heaven and against you”: Lord have mercy
Christ crucified, with the repentant thief we ask you to remember us sinners, that we may share your Kingdom: Christ have mercy
Holy Spirit, Lord, fire of divine love, purify our minds and hearts: Lord, have mercy
May almighty God open our hearts to his grace,as we prepare to celebrate this great sacrament of love.
A reading from the holy Gospel + according to Luke
They seized Jesus then, and led him away, and they took him to the High Priest’s house. Peter followed at a distance. They had lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and Peter sat down among them, and as he was sitting there by the blaze a servant girl saw him, peered at him and said: “This person was with him too.” But he denied it, saying: “Woman, I do not know him.” Shortly afterwards some else saw him and said: “You are another of them.” But Peter replied: “I am not, my friend.” About an hour later another man insisted, saying: “This fellow was certainly with him. Why, he is a Galilean.” Peter said: “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” At that instant, while he was still speaking, the cock crew, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered what the Lord had said to him: “Before the cock crows today, you will have disowned me three times.” And he went outside, and wept bitterly.
We all know what it feels like to be disappointed. We know how we feel when carefully laid plans go wrong, when we don’t get the job, or the exam results, or the university place. But I should imagine that we also know how it feels when we ourselves disappoint others. When I still worked in the school, I was always struck that whilst anger and shouting were rarely helpful in encouraging students to work harder or behave better, there was little that made them more uncomfortable than feeling they had let someone down – whether their parents, their teachers or, most especially, their friends.
In a sense, perhaps that is why we are here this evening. We know that Peter is not alone in having disowned Jesus – it is something each of us has done, perhaps many times, when we have chosen to sin. I wonder what that look that Jesus gave Peter was like. I suspect it was not a look of surprise; I am certain it was not a look of anger. I would guess it was a look of pure love – a love which Peter immediately recognised, and made him see what he had just done. I suspect it was a look of love which brought every failure Peter had ever made back into his mind. I suspect it was a look of love which Peter knew he could not return at that moment, despite what he still felt in his heart for his friend. The bitterness of Peter’s tears was engendered by the huge difference between the love and friendship he had received from Christ, and the fear and compromise displayed in his own words of betrayal.
It is, perhaps, a strange paradox at the heart of our faith, and one which we see particularly clearly on Good Friday, that what should move us most to repentance is not our fear of God’s anger, not our terror at what punishment we might receive for our sin. Rather, it is the realisation of just what God has done for us, our wonder and amazement at the generosity of his gift to us – alongside our recognition of our ingratitude and carelessness in receiving that gift – which will move us too, like Peter, to deep tears of repentance.
For us, as for Peter, our betrayal and our sins are not the end of the story. Christ comes to us again, his wounded hands open towards us, and offers us yet more grace, yet more love, another chance to change. Let us take his hand in ours this evening as we celebrate this great sacrament of reconciliation and love.
you opened the eyes of the blind,
healed the sick,
forgave the adulterous woman,
and, after Peter’s denial, confirmed him again in your love.
Listen to our prayers, forgive us our sins;
renew our wonder at the depth of love you showed us on the Cross,
and let that great love find some small echo in our hearts,
that, with thanksgiving, we may praise you,
and proclaim your saving power to all the world,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.