This weekend, and last, would have seen many celebrations in churches and cathedrals across the land. St Peter, being the rock on which Christ founded his church, has a whole ‘tide’ of celebrations rather than just one day, and is the time of year in which ordinations are held. My own ordination as a deacon took place on the last weekend of June and my ordination to the priesthood on the 1st in July.
For the last 11 years I have lived next door to a church named after Peter, and served its community. We have celebrated our patron saint with a church and village fete on the Glebe field which the church towers over. We have shared breakfast together on the ‘shore’ of the small stream that runs alongside the field, and celebrated Holy Communion together as a family and community in the sunshine, sat on hay bales!
This year our celebrations are much more low key (excuse the pun), and a prayer card has been hand delivered to each household in our parish.
Our church has many symbols attributed to St Peter. The most surprising being an upside down cross, a symbol used in occult practises. It can be found in connection with Peter, as when his time came to be crucified, he did not feel worthy to be die in the same way that Jesus had so asked to be crucified upside down! There are also many images of keys in the ironwork and on the kneelers, and today’s passage helps to explain why.
One day, Jesus takes his disciples far away from the political and religious centres of Israel, and in very careful language asks them how he is being identified. The disciples shuffle their feet a little and look at each other. This is dangerous territory. Jesus asked who ‘people’ think he might be, so they respond that some see him as a prophet, and name famous prophets from history and more recent times, all now dead.
And then Jesus asks them personally who they think he is. This is a much more dangerous question. We can practically hear the tumble weed roll by in the silence that follows, then Peter responds,
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.Matthew 16: 16
Jewish prophecies had been predicting a Messiah for generations, but no-body quite knew what a Messiah would look like. For some the Messiah would be a warrior king, and under his reign pagan hordes would be defeated and Israel’s freedom from oppression would be secured. Others looked for a Messiah who would purge the Temple and establish true worship. In this first century, there had already been many would-be messiah’s who had gathered a following, but when their leader came to a sticky end, the following dispersed. Just as was happening for Jesus, ‘messiahs’ attracted unwanted and very often hostile attention from the authorities. No wonder the disciples were cautious about answering Jesus.
Their answers reveal something of Jesus’ true identity which has been somewhat whitewashed by the image of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’. The type of prophet Jesus was identified with was somewhat wild, very much unlike our stained glass images. ..
A wild prophet…who had stood up and spoken God’s word fearlessly against wicked and rebellious kings…God’s mouthpiece against injustice and wickedness in high places.Tom wright.
Peter, the disciples who would throw himself right into the heart of things, who spoke and often acted without taking time to think, was willing to speak up, but what did he understand by the words he had spoken? The title ‘Son of God’ didn’t have the same meaning that we understand now, there was no doctrine of the Holy Trinity The Son of God was a scriptural phrase understood to mean a king chosen by God and adopted as his representative. When Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, he did not, yet, comprehend that Jesus was the Son of God as we do now.
Jesus looks at Peter, and the courage it has taken for him to formulate this reply and speak it out loud, and gives Peter his new name; just as Abram and Sarai the patriarch and matriarch at the beginning of the Jewish faith were given new names. Abram became Abraham and Sarai, Sarah, God added a new syllable, the sound of breath and life itself. Peter had been named Simon, but this new name is more than a nickname, it indicates that he is to begin the Christian faith, The Way. Peter means rock, or stone, a foundation stone, and Jesus gives to him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
There are many jokes about St Peter and the Pearly Gates, but Peter’s role is even more exciting than this. His life will be one of adventure and daring, and joy,
as chief missionary of the Easter message it will be Peter’s joyful task to lead many into the kingdom.Douglas R A Hare
It was just before Easter that we entered into lockdown due to Covid 19. Due to lockdown I found myself shouting my alleluias from The Rectory doorstep, a whole new missionary adventure was beginning. Perhaps you first began to follow these blog pages during lockdown? Perhaps you tuned into prayer and worship as church moved on-line, and found yourself connecting with Jesus in a deeper and more thoughtful way than ever before. Perhaps St Peter is inviting you into the kingdom of heaven.
As our churches slowly begin to re-open, will you accept that invitation? Will you find within yourselves the words to acknowledge that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Messiah, the resurrected God?