If you have traveled much in Europe, you may have seen a rooster instead of a cross atop the steeple in some churches. The origin of the tradition is complex and disputed, but one thing is clear—the practice was derived from Peter’s denial of Jesus.
The scene in Luke 22:54-62 is one of the most moving in all of Scripture. While Peter is still in the midst of speaking, he hears the cockcrow, and in that very moment, Jesus turns and looks at him and he remembers the saying of the Lord.
Peter was slayed when we looked into the eyes of the Messiah. A roiling mix of shame and sorrow overwhelmed him, and the only thing he knew to do was to run to someplace private where he could weep and wail.
Each time I read those verses, my heart sinks. I know what it is like to be caught in the act of sin—caught in the act of denying my Lord.
In an earthly sense, roosters are animal alarm clocks, always looking for dawn and then announcing a new day’s arrival. How many millions of people over the centuries have been startled from sleep by the piercing cry of a rooster!
It is alleged that Augustine and then later Pope Gregory I declared the rooster to be the emblem most suitable to Christianity, for the rooster reminds us of our need for Jesus to turn and look at us in our sin that we might repent and be saved. As Europeans saw roosters atop the steeples of churches, the spiritual hope was that they, like Peter, would come out of the darkness of sin and awake from the sleep of death and weep bitterly. And then, in due time, be greeted by the Light of the World.
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”—Ephesians 5:12