One of my favorite movies is Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail. If you’ve seen it, you remember Brave Sir Robin, riding his pretend horse on the trail of the Holy Grail. Brave Sir Robin had the misfortune of having a minstrel following him around, singing his praises:
“Bravely bold Sir Robin, rode forth from Camelot.
He was not afraid to die, O Brave Sir Robin.
He was not at all afraid to be killed in nasty ways.
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin!
He was not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp,
Or to have his eyes gouged out, and his elbows broken.
To have his kneecaps split, and his body burned away,
And his limbs all hacked and mangled, brave Sir Robin!
His head smashed in and his heart cut out,
And his liver removed and his bowels unplugged….”
…and then it gets a little too, let’s say, specific to mention here. Of course, Brave Sir Robin got his chance to prove his courage, running into a huge, three-headed night. We know what happened next:
“Brave Sir Robin ran away,
Bravely ran away, away.
When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled.
Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly, he chickened out. Bravely taking to his feet,
He beat a very brave retreat,
Bravest of the brave, Sir Robin.”1
Palm Sunday has its own Brave Sir Robin; a man we now know as Francis was just seated in his Chair. I’m talking about St. Peter, of course, and every Palm Sunday and Good Friday he must endure the entire Christian world reading about his biggest failure. “Peter followed at a distance,” Luke tells us, as Jesus was taken by force from the Garden of Gethsemane to the house of the high priest. Jesus had told Peter that he would deny Him; Peter protested, he was the brave and brusk one, after all. They had all just a few days before witnessed the people of Jerusalem laying down their coats before the Lord, lest even the donkey He rode upon take offense, their palm branches waving in praise. “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord,” they all shouted; Peter must have felt invincible, but just four days later, when finally confronted with some real danger, Brave Sir Peter gallantly chickened out.
I think we can all relate, though, right? How often is it that we are truly called to stand up for what we believe? To tell the truth to power? To take a stand, knowing that what we say or do could actually cost us something? For some of us, that may happen a lot. Not me, I can name the times that I’ve walked or wandered into situations that were life and death, so to speak, and they are not many. Lately we have celebrated or commemorated a bunch of those saints who have gone before us in the Faith, people who stood when it would have been more expedient to curl up in a hole, people like Thomas Ken, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Cramner, Perpetua and Felicity, the list is long and distinguished and sad and heroic.
Brave Sir Robin, if you remember, was eventually tossed into the Gorge of Eternal Peril when he couldn’t answer “What is the capital of Assyria.” Our Brave Sir Peter suffered a fate much worse and yet so much better. Strengthened by his resurrected Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter never again backed down in the face of danger. He was crucified upside-down as the better option to denying his Lord every again, and for his faith and courage he stands waiting for us, the keys to Heaven itself in his hand. This Palm Sunday let us remind ourselves once more that Peter’s Lord is our Lord; that the same Holy Spirit that filled Peter with courage fills us as well; and that even if we, like Peter, have denied our Lord over and over again, our Lord Jesus never denies us.
1The Ballad of Sir Robin, Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.