St Peter's Day
St Peter's Day; Sunday, 28 June, 2015
Rev'd Dr Daniel Dries, Rector of Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord; our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
If you have enjoyed the privilege of visiting Westminster Abbey, you would probably know that, among the many historic tombs, the remains of two royal sisters have been laid to rest together. As a father of daughters, I can attest that no two sisters can be the best of friends all of the time. However, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor redefined the term 'sibling rivalry'. Theirs was not a happy relationship, and yet, their human remains have been placed together probably for all time. We can only imagine how they would have responded to this rather surprising arrangement.
Although it does seem rather odd to entomb two rivals or "enemies" together, the inscription on their tomb attempts to makes sense of it all. It reads: Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection.
Although this celebration today appropriately focuses on St Peter, the church lectionary celebrates the shared feast of St Peter and St Paul, apostles and martyrs. In a sense, honouring these two men on the same day is a rather odd arrangement. After all, they were not enemies, but they had very little in common. Peter was one of the twelve; Paul was not. Peter was a Jew who later became a Christian; Paul was a Roman who killed Christians, before becoming one himself.
There is little evidence of any sort of meaningful relationship between the two men. If anything, Peter and Paul were probably no strangers to tension and rivalry. In Galatians Chapter 2, we read Paul's words: '...when Cephas (or Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face.'
Peter and Paul are two of the most significant figures of the early church. We could ask why they have not been given their own feast days. Why have they been thrust together? And, rather like two bitterly opposed Tudor monarchs, how would they feel about this shared memorial?
According to tradition, Peter and Paul both died a martyr's death. It is said that, in the year 64, the Emperor Nero ordered the execution of the two men. As a Roman Citizen, Paul would have been beheaded; while Peter, a Jew, would have been crucified. As you would know very well in this parish, out of humility and reverence for Christ, Peter demanded to be crucified upside down.
It is claimed that their remains were rescued and laid to rest together on the 29th of June around the year 260. The physical remains of the two men were not permitted to rest in peace for very long. The remains of St Peter are believed to be buried under St Peter's Basilica in Rome, while in 2006, Vatican archaeologists claimed to have discovered the remains of Paul under another Roman Basilica.
On this Patronal Festival, the Gospel reading depicts one of the most familiar conversations between Peter and Christ. None of the Gospels can possibly record any encounter between Paul and Christ for obvious reasons. Today's Gospel, Matthew Chapter 16, records the all-important conversation in which Simon acknowledges Christ as the Messiah.
In answer to the question, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon answers, "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God." Simon's reward is to be called Peter; the Rock on which the church is to be built. However, this rock does not always live up to his name. Peter denies Christ three times before the crucifixion; he makes childlike and impractical suggestions at the moment of Transfiguration; in Matthew Chapter 14, Peter bravely walks on water, before sinking after just a few steps. Now I didn't come all this way to criticise your patron saint, but we have to wonder why Christ identified Peter as the one. Despite all of his obvious inadequacies, why was Peter singled out as the rock on which the church would be built?
As we gather here this morning, there will be a similar celebration taking place not far away at St Paul's Cathedral. That celebration, which I imagine will be slightly less elaborate, will be focussing appropriately on St Paul, rather than St Peter. There is something rather wonderful about the very prominent way in which your city honours St Peter and St Paul—two greatly contrasted pillars of the church. The correct title for Westminster Abbey is The Collegiate of St Peter. Melbourne is therefore not quite unique in having a St Peter's and St Paul's, but you're certainly in good company.
It may not surprise you to hear that, in my part of the world, Paul is something of a hero. Like Peter, Paul is confident and certain in his affirmation of Christ as Lord; however, Paul often articulates his faith in language and theology than can sound rather forceful or even aggressive. In today's Epistle, Paul writes to Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." This strong, evangelical language resonates very well with many Anglicans in my diocese. While for Anglicans of our persuasion or tradition, Paul can present something of a challenge to say the least.
Reflecting on Peter and Paul together is really a wonderful metaphor for the Anglican Communion itself. We all know that the Communion is not at its most harmonious at the present time. With western society's increased emphasis on marriage equality, the tensions within the Communion are likely to become even greater.
The former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, has predicted that this contentious issue will ultimately bring about an end to the Anglican Communion as we know it. In the year 2000, in a most dramatic gesture, Richard Holloway threw his bishop's mitre into the River Thames, suggesting that Anglicans may now have irreconcilable differences.
I certainly hope that the Anglican Communion can hold together. Our differences are significant, but hopefully not irreconcilable. In my own context, I am very aware of the extremes of theology within Anglicanism. For many generations now our denomination has struggled to live with very different theologies and liturgical expressions. However, what has been described as a weakness could also be seen to be our greatest strength.
From the little evidence that we have, we can see that Peter and Paul were very different men, with different ways of expressing their love for Christ. In John, Chapter 21, Christ asks Peter, "Do you love me?" This question is asked three times, and is followed by Peter's emphatic response, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." And surely this is why Peter was chosen as the rock; Christ knew that this love would endure to the end, even if there were one or two glitches along the way. The same can be said for Paul: the one who boldly proclaimed his faith and his love of Christ to the bitter end.
The fact that they have been thrust together enables us to see that difference and tension often result in a powerful energy and spirit; almost like two opposing magnetic forces. We can see this in the Anglican Communion-opposing views expressed with passion and conviction; different in so many ways, yet united in our love of Christ. Rather like two Tudor monarchs, we often sit together very uncomfortably, but also united in our hope of the one resurrection.
In the name the Father, and of the Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.