Saints Peter and Paul
This weekend is Saturday the 27 and Sunday the 28 June, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, beginning the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time.
The Choir of Westminster Cathedral sing Tu Es Petrus by Palestrina: ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
Today we celebrate the life and witness of two of the most important saints of the Church. Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus and was present at key moments of the ministry of Jesus. It was he who declared Jesus to be the Messiah, but then went on to deny knowing Jesus outside the High Priest’s house. After the Resurrection, he was reconciled and given a role in leading the emerging community of disciples. Paul, originally named Saul, was responsible for much of the early persecution of the Church, but after his conversion on the Road to Damascus, became a fervent preacher and teacher. But both Peter and Paul came to be seen as having different roles to play within the leadership of the Church: Peter in witnessing to the Lordship of Christ and Paul in developing an understanding of its meaning for Christ's followers. Peter and Paul have been remembered jointly on this day since the very early days of the Church, it being regarded as the anniversary of their martyrdom in Rome in about the year 64. This weekend’s reading is from the Acts of the Apostles.
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, "Fasten your belt and put on your sandals." He did so. Then he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod.
Can you imagine what is was like for Peter in that prison? - James had just been put to death, and here was Peter, locked up, heavily guarded, probably fearing he was about to suffer the same fate. Try and imagine for a moment how it must have felt for him.
And then Peter is led mysteriously out of this fear and captivity, to freedom. Can you imagine Peter's amazement, his relief, his sense of liberation as he is led by the hand, and just walks out?
As you listen again to the story, imagine the scene as vividly as you can. Imagine being there, what it was like for Peter... and this not realising and then realising who it was leading him to freedom.
What feelings or memories does this scene give rise to in you? Perhaps it reminds you of your own experiences of fear or captivity or liberation, or of times when God was leading you by the hand without you realising it. Maybe you yearn for God to do that for you now. Whatever your feelings or desires, share them with the Lord now - tell him what is in your heart.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.