While he was at Wheaton, Buechner went often to what someone described as "an evangelical high Episcopal church," St. Barnabas in Glen Ellyn. He found the rector, the Rev. Robert MacFarlane, a rewarding preacher.
ONE PARTICULAR SERMON I will always remember though I cannot be sure that it is exactly the sermon he preached because of course it is the sermons we preach to ourselves around the preacher's sermons that are the ones that we hear most powerfully. He was talking about Saint Peter in any case, how Peter was sitting outside in the high priest's courtyard while Jesus was inside being interrogated. A maidservant came up and asked him if it wasn't true that he was a follower of this man who was at the root of all the trouble. Then Peter said, "I do not know the man." It was Peter's denial, of course, MacFarlane said: I do not even know who he is. It was the denial that Jesus himself had predicted, and the cock raised his beak into the air and crowed just as Jesus had foretold. But it was something else too, MacFarlane said. It was a denial, but it was also the truth. Peter really did not know who Jesus was, did not really know, and neither do any of us really know who Jesus is either. Beyond all we can find to say about him and believe about him, he remains always beyond our grasp, except maybe once in a while the hem of his garment. We should never forget that. We can love him, we can learn from him, but we can come to know him only by following him—by searching for him in his church, in his Gospels, in each other.
- Originally published in Telling Secrets