Monday, June 29, 2009

Saint Peter the Apostle

(Photo from, public domain)

Although the Catholic Church lumps the Feast Days of Saint Peter and Saint Paul together, the Anglican 1928 Book of Common Prayer only celebrates Saint Peter today.

From Saint of the Day,

St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus.

The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life, and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles.

And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the nether world shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19).

But the Gospels prove their own veracity by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus.

He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b).

Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears.

We would probably go to confession to Peter sooner than to any of the other apostles. He is perhaps a more striking example of the simple fact of holiness. Jesus says to us as he said, in effect, to Peter: "It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Peter, it is not human wisdom that makes it possible for you to believe, but my Father's revelation. I, not you, build my Church."
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer cites two passages of Scripture to be read on St. Peter's Day: The Epistle reading is Acts 12:1-11 (Peter is rescued from prison after James' death) and the Gospel reading is St. Matthew 16:13-19 (Peter confessing Jesus as the Christ). The Collect (collective prayer) for this day reads:

O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandest him earnestly to feed thy flock; Make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy Holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same, that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I've always liked Peter. He is passionate (sometimes too much so!), headstrong (again, often too much so), and uneducated, yet he gives one of the most amazing sermons in all of Scripture on Pentecost (Acts 2:14-39), immediately following which we learn "and there were added that day about three thousand souls" to the Church (2:41). Peter allowed the Holy Spirit to speak through him, using him as a conduit on the very first day the Church itself began -- the day that the Holy Spirit descended just as Jesus had promised the disciples. Through the Holy Spirit, Peter is transformed from a stubborn yet fearful follower of Christ to the Church's impassioned and steady leader who did not think it right for him to be crucified in the same way his Lord Christ had been, insisting instead on being crucified upside down in 64 AD.

Peter was ever-so human in the Gospels, yet He is utterly changed into who Christ had prepared him to be in Acts: "on this Rock I shall build My Church." Peter is "this rock," always pointing to the true Rock of Our Salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord, just as we should in everything we say and do.

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