Peter and Paul
St Peter's Day; Sunday, 29 June, 2014
The Right Reverend the Honourable Dr Peter Hollingworth AC OBE
On this Patronal Festival, as one named Peter, I have a contemporary reason for preaching on St Peter and St Paul in accordance with ancient practice.
The two great apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul are contrasting personalities whose faith and whose apostleship was conferred on them in very different ways and at different times. It should also be said that they came from different geographic regions, Jewish backgrounds and traditions; and they came to represent different theological streams in the mission of the early church. Yet in the overall Divine scheme, the great purposes of God in Christ, both played an Essential and Foundational part that cannot be separated and should be jointly celebrated today.
Peter, being the first of the disciples to be chosen by Jesus, was part of the executive inner sanctum along with James and John. The first to be called to be a direct personal witness to Christ's early ministry, his teaching, his acts and miracles, the last supper, yet was very gravely tested and faltered especially during the time of Christ's passion, trial and death.
Paul, being someone 'born out of due season', a tentmaker by trade, was also a scholar trained in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel in the Hebrew and Hellenic traditions. He also had impeccable joint credentials as 'a Hebrew of the Hebrews' and a Roman citizen. Yet he was an adversary and persecutor of Jewish Christians, who was then dramatically converted on the Damascus Road sometime after Jesus' death and resurrection. He too witnessed the Risen Lord.
This Jesus, whom Paul had never met in the flesh, whose followers he sought to bring before the religious authorities on trial for heresy, this risen Jesus then revealed Himself to Paul in the fullness of His glory in a life changing vision through the work of the Holy Spirit.
They both shared a fundamental quality in common — their profound faith and love of the Lord Jesus and their commitment to his missionary challenge in proclaiming the gospel to the nations of the world.
Following an agreement at the council of Jerusalem it was agreed that one should concentrate on the conversion and nurture of the Jewish peoples living in Jerusalem and throughout the surrounding Mediterranean, while the other would preach to the Gentiles, assuring them that their lack of circumcision under Jewish law was no barrier to their reception by baptism into Christ's Body the Church.
Eventually they both concluded their remarkable foundational ministries in the imperial capital of the Roman Empire following long periods of imprisonment, eventually leading to martyrdom in Rome, between 60 and 64 AD. In all likelihood neither of them was the first to preach the gospel in Rome. There would have been Jewish Christians living in Rome before their arrival. However there has never been any serious doubt that they were both part of a dual apostolate in Rome, being the pre-eminent pillars and founders of the Roman Church, which for the Western Empire was to become the Mother Church.
So St Peter's Basilica was set within the walls of Rome and built upon St Peter's tomb, and St Paul's basilica outside the walls upon the tomb of St Paul. By 258 AD the church declared a joint feast day for them both on June 29, originally observed as the birth date of Romulus the city's co- founder. However, we do not know the actual day on which each was martyred.
In passing we should remind ourselves here in Melbourne that we too in our Anglican tradition have churches dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, together with St James; and until the 1950's St John's Latrobe Street. The founders of our diocese under Bishop Perry must have had a clear apostolic sense as to how they wanted to name and plant the early colonial Church in this city on the foundation of the Apostles.
To return to our main subjects, the two apostles Peter and Paul, we can take comfort in the fact that they are both living illustrations that those whom Jesus takes into his service do not suffer any violation of their humanity through seeking to follow in Jesus' footsteps in service. Both Peter and Paul, despite their natural gifts of leadership, were very human in ways we can all identify with, and from time to time their lives fell short of their Lord's example of perfection as they could freely confess.
This is of some comfort to us, though of great pain to them, for despite all this, our Lord called Peter 'the rock' on whose apostleship and ministry His body the Church was to be founded. Later on, for his part, Paul was known as 'the apostle to the Gentiles.' There is sometimes a measure of disharmony associated with his ministry in some places. His was a powerfully liberating message which challenged obsolete or false beliefs and practices, not-withstanding the obvious fact that he was deeply loved by those he converted and who followed him. Though not one of the original twelve, Paul's unique position made him the one whose role was to ensure the Church did not turn in upon itself.
We need to remember that division, discord and a schism in the Church had been present from the outset, but neither Peter nor Paul ever caused it. More than anyone else they laboured for and declared its essential unity in Christ.
May I conclude with the guidance provided to the preacher by The Reverend Dr Reginald Fuller 30 years ago in his manual, 'Preaching the Lectionary — the Word of God for the Church Today'?
Today's double commemoration of Peter and Paul and its early history indicate that its real significance is the celebration of the foundation of the ancient Church of Rome, which became the mother of the Churches throughout the west. As such, this feast is of Ecumenical importance for western Christians. It is perhaps even more significant that the church of Rome had a double foundation — the Petrine and the Pauline missions, the mission to Israel and that to the Gentiles, the Apostolate to the circumcised and the free Gospel, apart from the law for the Gentiles, the institutional and the charismatic-evangelical.
Those streams in Christianity and in Church life that we normally take to be antithetical — Rome and the reformation — are here held together in tension, but in what is hopefully a fruitful tension. Is that perhaps the mission of Rome today: to be both Petrine and Pauline, Catholic and Evangelical?
Can we discern such things in the life of the Church in our day and age? I wonder what was in the mind of Francis 1, Bishop of Rome, when he recently came to a gathering of charismatic Roman Catholics, some fifty-five thousand of them, joyfully greeting him and speaking in tongues. St Paul had his own views about the limits of speaking in tongues and with St Peter was quick to assure the crowds at Pentecost his followers weren't drunk. Both men would be surprised at how widely this is practised in places like Latin America today, so is it too much to hope that this is some kind of sign with the Roman Pontiff seeking an historic reconciliation between the different streams of the Christian tradition and beyond between other Faith traditions?
To conclude with a prayer from the Missal:
We pray that we will be true to the Faith which has come to us through the apostles Peter and Paul
- Father in heaven,
- The light of your revelation brought Peter and Paul
- The gift of faith in Jesus your Son.
- Through their prayers
- May we always give thanks for your life
- Given us in Christ Jesus,
- And for having been enriched by Him
- In all knowledge and love
- May ever stand firm upon the one foundation, Your Son Jesus Christ Our Lord
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.