It could have been a rooster. It could have been a trumpet announcing the changing of the guard. It happened every night. It was so familiar that some slept through it, in the way that you learn to ignore the train whistle and the fire siren and the silence of the countryside.
Peter may have heard the rooster a thousand times in the middle of the night. He fished at night. The sound of the rooster across the quiet water of Galilee reminded him of home, of shore, of the promise of shift-end.
On this night in Jerusalem, 60 miles and a culture away from the lake, the sound of the rooster was not comforting at all. Peter startled at the sound, and looked up. At that moment, Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Peter rushed away from the fire, through clusters of people, out of the courtyard, into the street. When he could take a breath, it was a sob.
The rooster and the look from Jesus were a reminder of a conversation a few hours before. Jesus had said, “You will deny knowing me.” Peter argued, with all the confidence of a person who doesn’t believe the worst will happen. “I would die with you” is a true statement, and may be much easier to live than “I will risk shame for you.”
And Jesus had said, “On the other side of your testing and failing, when you have discovered your limited willpower and my unlimited willingness to obey my Father, you will be able to encourage others. You’ll be able to explain all this. Then.”
Even as Peter left, more fully ashamed than he could imagine, Jesus went ahead with the plan. He would die for Peter anyway. And decades later Peter would write,
…for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.