Wile E. Coyote furiously chases Roadrunner. Roadrunner suddenly stops. The coyote tries to stop but he can’t. He skids past the roadrunner out to the edge of a cliff. The ground gives way and for just a moment we see his eyes bulge into saucers. Wile E. plummets to the ground. Poof!
I used to love to watch old Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons when I was a young man. Wile E. Coyote and I share a common plight. I, too, have ventured too close to the edge. I’ve found myself on shaky ground and taken a fall. I’ve stared that “oh-boy-this-is-gonna-hurt” stare. I’ve looked up from the bottom of the pit, dazed and stunned.
But Wile E. Coyote has some characteristics that I do not have. He is invincible. He never gets hurt. The falls don’t faze him. Within moments, he is out of the pit, back on the trail. In the next scene of the cartoon he’s back to stacking Acme dynamite or painting a wall to make it appear like a tunnel to trap Roadrunner. You and I don’t recover so easily. Like Wile E. Coyote, we fall. But unlike Wile E., we wander in the canyon for a while. Stunned, hurt, and wondering if this ravine has a way out.
Being stuck in a pit reminds me of the experience of Peter found in the eighteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. His Rabbi and Savior Jesus is being questioned. Peter finds himself in a different crowd and the Bible records that as Peter was standing and warming himself by a fire, some said to him, “Aren’t you one of that man’s followers?” Peter denied it, and responded, “No, I am not.”
Few of us have been in a pit deeper than Peter’s. Which is ironic, for just an hour or two before his denial of Jesus, he was high on the pinnacle and far from the pit. When the temple guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Peter smugly flashes his sword as if to say, “Step aside, Jesus, I’ll take care of this one for you.”
Fast forward from the garden to the fire. Peter would have been better off in the shadows with the other disciples. He would have been better off in the courtyard with his Master. But instead Peter is warming his hands on the devil’s hearth. A young girl recognizes him and asks, “Aren’t you one of that man’s followers?” “No, I am not,” he asserts. Peter denies Jesus three times and with each denial Peter inches closer to the edge of the canyon … until the ground gives way and he falls. Have you been there? Have you felt the ground of conviction give way beneath your feet? Have you ever felt the ledge crumble, your eyes widen, and before you know it…poof!
What do you do when you fall? You could stay in the canyon. Many do. Many live their lives in the shadows. Many never return from their guilt. Some dismiss their deeds by saying, “Everybody has a little slip now and then.” When we fall, we can dismiss it, we can deny it, we can distort it, or we can deal with it. What choice will you make?
If you choose to deal with it, you can rest assured that you will experience grace. In the Gospel of Luke, Peter’s denial is punctuated with this chilling phrase, “When the cock crowed, “the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (Luke 22:61). This season reminds us that Jesus is looking at us not with hate, but with love and grace. Jesus loves us so much that He died on a cross that our guilt might be exchanged for God’s grace.