Good Friday Preaching – The Servant Girl


The truth is, I only really noticed her on Sunday. I’ve never payed her the blindest bit of attention before.

I guess no-one ever did.

The servant girl who answered Peter back. She’s a woman in John’s gospel but a servant girl in the version that Matthew and Cedric were watching on Sunday. There’s more detail there too.

Peter warms himself by the fire. Cold. Human. Miserable.

She sees him and simply says, “You were with Jesus the man from Nazareth”.

He says no.

She says, “yes you were.”

He denies it again.

A third time, “But you are a Galilean”

Scripture rather euphemistically says that Peter began to curse and swear an oath and said, “I do not know this man you are talking about”.

I think it is important not to mistake what is going on here.

Three times she says – you were with that Jesus.

And Peter’s response is, “Look you, fuck off! I didn’t know the man you are talking about at all”

That’s what scripture tells us happened.

And then the cock crows.

And I’ve preached on Peter on Good Friday plenty of times. And I’ve preached on the cock crowing. The triple betrayal. The cock. The shame of it all for Peter.

But I’ve never really noticed her.

Until this time.

You always notice something or someone new when you come to the passion again.

This time for me it was her. The servant girl. The one who spoke up, spoke clearly and spoke the truth.

And we don’t know her name.

There is a, perhaps rather fanciful, tradition about names in the New Testament. There’s all kinds of small bit parts in the gospels and in Acts – people who appear and disappear rather suddenly. Simon of Cyrene is an obvious example in the passion. The tradition is that those whose names we know from scripture are probably people who found faith and became part of the early Jesus movement that was to become the church. There’s some sense to it. If they joined the movement they would be known by those who collected the gospel stories. They would still been around. In the case of Simon of Cyrene, we even know the names of his sons – surely he had contact with the early church if they were all remembered by name.

But this servant girl is one of those who appear with something very significant to say but whose names go unrecorded.

Looks like she never joined the movement and probably was never much taken seriously by anyone at the time.

But she speaks the truth and we should listen very carefully to what she says.

She speaks the truth to Peter even in the face of his shame and betrayal of all the love and values that he once professed.

Ever meet this servant girl?

She was around at the recent investigations into child sexual abuse in the church.

I don’t remember her name but there she was giving testimony against all kinds of be-dogcollared bigwigs.

Her testimony can be summed up easily:

“You knew Jesus? You knew this to be wrong? Why didn’t you do something?”

And she made those bigwigs wriggle with shame.

The servant girl in the courtyard with Peter speaks truth to power. She persistently calls out his lies.

She is a better priest than Caiaphas. She is a better judge than Pilate. She knows right from wrong. She knows she is being lied to and she says so.

And Peter – yes, that’s Peter, the rock on which the church was built has no answer.

I still don’t know her name, and I’m not sure she wants to have much to do with the church anyway but I’m sure I’ve started to hear her voice more often recently.

The woman in the courtyard accusing Peter.

I hear her speaking truth to power.

I see her holding up slogans demanding gun control following a shooting in her school.

I was there she says. I know what really happened. I saw it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

“You knew that man Jesus didn’t you and yet you ran away when he was vulnerable and in trouble”.

I know not her name but I hear her speaking out about abuse in the world of showbiz, the world of politics, the world of religion.

And she speaks the truth.

She knows that those in power, no let’s name it – men in power will wriggle when trouble comes and try to cover their backs. Try to say – I was not there. I didn’t see it. I knew nothing about what was going on.

The darkness of the courtyard, Peter stands warming his hands by the brazier and the light of the fire causes her to see the badge he is wearing that no-one else can see which says plainly – “It wisnae me”

She she’s fooled by nothing.

She knows that cheating is wrong in business, or education or relationships. She knows that abuse is wrong in the classroom, on the sportsfield or in clergy training programmes. She knows that in this world in which everyone has an opinion, there’s still such a thing as truth. Black and while truth.

She knows what’s what and she has found her own voice. And she speaks the truth.

I found myself on Sunday listening to the passion and asking myself why I’ve never heard her voice before.

But I’ve never heard it because I’m part of the system too.

Patriarchy is the system that we all find ourselves negotiating and most of us find ourselves making deals and compromises with patriarchy. And voices go unheard.

Are things changing.

Is the servant girl – no let’s call her a woman, is the woman in the courtyard finally being heard?

I don’t think we can know yet.

But I do know she’s finding her voice. I do know she’s speaking truth to power. I do know also that the powerful are going to put up quite a fight to shut her up.

But she looks into that patriarchal world and she calls us to live by the company that we have kept with Christ.

Love is both the goal and the weapon. Love is the destination and love is on the horizon but love is the weapon by which we nip away at patriarchal assumptions, rules and systems.

She knows the truth, does the woman in the courtyard. And this is her time.

Who needs a crowing cock.

These days she posts on twitter.

And she uses the hashtag #metoo.

Read by email

One of the surprises for me in keeping the blog over the last year or so has been how many people have taken up the opportunity to read by email.

I’d kind of thought that email was old fashioned technology and in many ways it is. But lots of people use old fashioned tech all the time. Just look at the number of people gazing with love at the vinyl records in any charity shop.

The people who have megablogs tend to be quite keen on keeping a mailing list. Those who are making serious money from blogging always say that you need to grow your mailing list and then sell things to people in order to make your dough.

Even though I’m not in the business of making megabucks from the blog, I took the trouble of inviting people to subscribe to receive posts by email quite a while ago. There are now somewhere between 300 and 350 people who receive the blog by email. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not huge. Very many bloggers have huge lists. However, it is far more than I had guessed would be interested. To put it into perspective, that’s higher than the number of people who come to St Mary’s on most Sundays.

There was a trend some years ago to depart from pulpits and preach sermons wandering amongst the people. I tend to think that preachers should see pulpits everywhere.

Anyway, here’s a shoutout to those who receive by email. Thanks for taking the trouble.

Anyone wanting to join them can do so right here and right now.

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