In 1998 I went to prison...
I was one of the few there that day in Whitemoor who walked out at the end of the day. I was there with a BBC can badge and a microphone and I went to visit the last of
the series in a restorative justice course called sycamore tree that Christian prison ministry was running. I'd never been in prison before. it was stark. there wasn't much to see,
because here isn't, just walls and barred gates, but the sounds of thatt day I still recall, jangling keys, metal gates slamming, heavy doors closing, and a guardedness of
speech. I listened and watched as a smal group of high security prisoners brought their summary of the course they had just done. And hey bought A4 bits of paper on which
they had written, or painted, or perhaps both. And it was a little like looking at the end of a primary school class day, as not all of them were very literate, and most of them
had struggled to articulate the tide of feelings that they carried and we're now given the chance to express. I'm sorry, one piece of paper said, but the texture of the marks of
the pen on the paper spoke of the strength of conviction attached to those words. That was enough.
This week I was listening to a podcast from BBC Radio 4's food Programme about a man called Al Crisci. As a teenager Al had two good friends whose lives went seriously
wrong, they died and at their funerals Al thought long and hard about how some people's lives just go wrong. And that once on at path it rapidly becomes the slippery slope.
57% of offenders will be back. They re-offend. And sure enough Al went to prison, as a free man and got a job in the prison kitchen as a catering manager. He started to
change that part of prison life. It was the time when Jamie Oliver was transforming school canteens. Al was inspired similarly, and then, quite unexpectedly in 2005 Al won a
BBC Food and Farming award and as he went to receive it he said we're going to set up a restaurant, it's going to be called Clink. An exclusive restaurant he joked, by invitation
only, and people chuckled good naturedly.
We'll come back to Al.
Our focus today is Peter, Peter who as we heard was in prison during his life, and let's rewind in Peters story to a part of his life that he wouldn't gladly go back to, like
prisoners who do not willingly revisit that moment in the dock when their sentence was proclaimed. We are in a Lent series that looks at people who stood at the foot of the
cross the cross as Jesus died.
But where was Peter?
Where was Peter, I wonder, on the day Jesus was crucified?
.... Was he hiding away at home in fear of his life? He'd been seen and recognised in the company of a proclaimed criminal.
Did he forget the whole thing and go off fishing?
Ah, yes... Was he in the middle of the Sea of Galilee that day? Certainly after the resurrection he was found back at the old trade. It would have been his default mode, a
place of small comfort at a time of devastation and confusion. See him pushing he boat out and climbing slightly wearily in and rowing hard, driving himself out into the middle
of the huge lake. Hear him.. Who was this Jesus? I never knew him, actually, I didn't, Peter would have said to himself. I never knew him. I had no idea he was like this. Only this week he was turning over the tables if the money changers in the Temple, sparks were flying, from the end of the whip and from Jesus mouth, he didn't!t mince his words when
But then what.... all talk of death and asking for suffering to pass... Horrible talk, so disturbed he was in the olive garden... How could he let himself be taken so easily like
that? He'd always been a master of dissolving into the crowd, said just enough to really get the message over and then disappeared until it was safe again.
I don't really know him do I?
...Perhaps Peter that day was out on the Lake...
And yet, if we look at the first letter of Peter, in 1 Peter 5:1 we read him saying... As an elder myself and a witness to the sufferings of Christ.
Peter was not named at the foot of the cross....but perhaps he had done a Zaacheus. Perhaps he'd found a vantage point, even looking out from the leaves of a tree? Could
you see the crosses from the garden of Gethsemane, I don't know, but perhaps a garden like it, or a hillside opposite...
And as Peter stood afar, perhaps sitting awkwardly in the rough branches of a tree, leaving his leg to go numb, punishing himself, words and looks came into his mind 'You are Simon, son of John, you are to be called Cephas. Peter, cephas, the rock. his naming calling day. And he called with pain the warm smile that Jesus gave out so willingly. Jesus thought he knew Peter, reliable, yes he had been, he had...right up to the end...then he was no rock, he was sand, slipping through the fingers of the accusers, his courage
leaking out like water at his feet.
So ashamed. Shame would have put Peter up a tree. He felt so exposed, so obvious it had been, in public, they all knew, they all knew Peter was not up to anything. Worse
than useless he was.
'Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man'. He could still feel the bony ankles of Jeuss and the sour smell of his sweaty sandals, that day, that naming calling day. That
day on which they had fished all night and caught nothing, and then pulled in a heaving net. he'd both clung on to him and yet known he must push him away and run, this
man was like a god...
But what had Jesus done. Pulled him to his feet, looked into his eyes and smiled, so warm he was.
And what had he said? ....
You are to be called the rock.. Ha, fat chance.
Peter might have looked up from his bitter thoughts at that point on that Easter morning. Through the branches he looked across to those three figures hung up outside the
walls to dry. Even now there is a strength. look! Jesus was holding his head high, looking straight at John and his mother, poor soul, And then john drew her close and held
her. My God, Jesus was sorting out last business, seeing his mother right. Jesus is the rock ...not me.. I never really knew him, I had no idea of his depths, had I? God, I
want him to turn to me.
He did turn to me. The other night he turned straight at me as quick S a flash. So serious he was. I'd said I'd follow him for ever...what a fool I was God what a fool. And
Jesus knew it, he looked at me then, oh God, how did he look then? He was so serious, so quiet, but gentle, wasn't he? Hadn't he said it gently and without blame?? Hadn't he?
I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.... I wept then and I weep again now, like a woman, like a child. What else
did he say that day? In have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail...
Jesus loved Peter.
24 times in the Gospel accounts Peter and his dealings with Jesus are specifically mentioned. One of the first miracles Jesus does is to heal Peter's mother-in-law. 8 times it
is Peter we are told that questions or comments to Jesus about something, He wants to know about food laws, about the temple tax, about forgiveness, about future times,
about the cursed fig tree, about being ready. Peter is particularly mentioned at the feeding of the five thousand, Peter is not afraid to state how things are: he comments about
their level of commitment to Jesus,he shies away from having his feet washed and what that indicates, he tells Jesus he cannot ask who touched him in a crowd, he declares
Jesus the Messiah.
Peter is completely engaged with what Jesus is doing and teaching. He is actively seeking to understand and to learn and to challenge. And this is recognised, Peter is
named as one of the apostles who are sent out by Jesus to do the work their master is doing.
Peter is also one of the three disciples seemingly closest to Jesus because they accompany him when the others don't. So Peter is taken aside to pray in the hills, he is
there when Jesus is transfigured,he is sent to prepare the Passover, he is taken further in the garden of Gethsemane, he draws his sword when the crowd come to arrest
So it comes as a shock to hear Peter's words in the courtyard of the High Priest. Not once, not twice but three times Peter says: 'I do not know the man'. And that was the
trouble, he didn't , really, and perhaps none of us do, certainly to start with, the level of depth of love that Jesus has for each of us, in our shame, is more than we ever
come across, so we don't know it's there for us, we don't know the man.
But Peter is so loved.
We know this Because every one of the gospels gives an account of Jesus preparing Peter for the fact that he will deny him. Mark records Jesus asking to tell Peter of his
resurrection, Two gospels talk about Peter seeking Jesus after the Resurrection,so that message had got through and then john records the conversation Jesus has with
Peter on the beach where Jesus re-instates Peter.
And what happened on that occasion? It was after the resurrection. Jesus appears to the disciples on the beach, and they realise it is him, though it must initially have felt like
a dream as they pulled the boats and the catch up to the shore. And that was the miraculous catch of 153 fishes... What a déjà vu moment, just like the huge catch of fish
that Peter hauled out of the water when Jesus first met him, and which caused Peter to fall down and say go away from me..... No, Peter, Jesus says to him in this day as he
brings Peter back, and as he says to all of us, I won't go away from you, not ever. I love you, from me you will always have a miraculous catch of fish.déjà
But Even then Peter is unsure, uncomfortable, his reinstatement is not easy, it's not over for Peter then though it is for Jesus. Peter is a retrospective person, he worked
things out slowly, it would take weeks... It would take until the Day of Pentcost. Then he'd stand up. The. He'd stand up and let rip, tell everyone who Jesus really was.
And he'd not look back.
Peter is given the Holy Spirit, just like all the other disciples. He becomes the Rock of the early church that Jesus always knew he would be. And then he listens with all his
heart to the spirit leadng him in the early days of the earliest church. Until suddenly he is captured, as our reading this evening described. James has been killed, the
Christians melt into the crowds but the officials are out looking for the ringleaders. Has Peter's heart starts to race again? Has he noticed he's giving short answers and his
palms are sweaty at the sight of a Roman spear?
Possibly not. Possibly Peter stands firm this time, determined. He stands and is arrested and chained to two guards. Now at last Peter can absolve himself of his deep
hidden shame. This time he will do it. But isn't it wonderful, just as Peter is re-living what it must have been like for Jesus, in that day that Oeter fled from him, just as he is
given the chance to stand up and prove himself for Jesus this time....
An angel comes and Peter is led free...
Peter is so loved. I don't need you to do that, Jesus says to Peter's heart and mind that day, that is past. And you are loved. And Peter knows that as we hear in his first letter:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from
the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
18. know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors,
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him* will not be put to shame.’
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,* in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into
his marvellous light.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,* so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds* you have been healed.
At the beginning I told you about Al Crisci who when he was young saw two of his teenage friends demolish their own lives with drugs and who died and whose funerals
Al attended. Al went to prison, to be the catering manager at HMP High Down in Sutton, Surrey, in 1994. And as a free man he started to change it from the inside. He
knew what it was like, being in prison, from his friends and from his work there, he started to understand the shame, he knew the difficulty of ever getting beyond it, he knew
for many it was a downward spiral, from those one or two bad decisions they had one time made.
And Clink Cardiff set up in 2009 and now voted as the best place to eat in Cardiff, has been their redemption. Prisoners can opt to go and work in the restaurant, they cook, clean and wait at tables, they learn to work in a team, they learn skills, they learn to accept authority and see it is a good and safe thing. They even earn a little bit of money
which is put aside and given to them when they leave. This clink project has enabled them to overcome shame and to engage again with life. To date there is Clink Cardiff,
Clink High Down and Clink Brixton. There are also Clink events and Clink Gardens where the food is grown.
HMP Styal, Wilslow, Cheshire Opening spring 2015, this women’s prison will soon include a restaurant. It will be situated in an old church, outside the prison wall.
People chuckled good naturedly on the day Al received his award in 2005, they smiled at the name of al Crisci's restaurant: Clink. But it has been no joke, it is far deeper and
more important to it's inmate workers. This is their redemption. Al could not buy back his two best friends. But he has been able to redeem others...
The cross is likewise no cruel joke of a cruel regime, no plot of a zealous religious minority jealous for their God, no bad end to a good story.
The cross is redemption, for all of us, enabling all of us, whatever depths of shame we may know, to walk free. We, like Peter, are loved with an everlasting love, at depths
below anything we can stoop to.
1 Peter 5
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
With thanks :) Susan (Rector)