The Feast of St
Peter and St Paul
Round Church Halifax AD 2009
1:1-9 St. Matthew 22:16f
writes (Sermon 295):
Both apostles share the same feast day, for
these two were one; And even though they suffered on different days,
they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we
celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us
embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their
sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.
Who could say enough about these great preachers
of our faith?
I cannot, though I am heartened knowing that some
who heard Paul said (and it is Paul who tells us this) “His letters
are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his
speech of no account.” [II Cor 10:10]
And I am heartened knowing that while Paul had
the very best education in the finest Jewish schools, Peter had no
formal training that we are aware of – he was a fisherman, called
from the minding the nets, to become among the greatest fishers of
Both these men were called to be missionaries:
Peter – first to be called by Jesus to be an apostles, who began his
mission to the Jews; Paul – last to be called by Jesus to be an
apostle, who knew his mission was to the Gentiles
Both gifted with boldness and zeal to bring the
Gospel to the ends of the world.
They have left to us their teaching: Peter –
tradition holds that St. Mark’s Gospel is based upon Peter’s
teaching and we have letters from Peter and record of his sermons in
Acts; Paul – is the writer of most of the letters of the New
Testament and we have his sermons recorded also in Acts
Peter and Paul were united in their teaching.
They both speak of the highest gifts of faith,
hope and charity. These gifts are spoken of together in today’s
Epistle by St. Peter and perhaps reminding us of that wonderful
passage on faith, hope and charity by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13. Later
in Peter’s first epistle he says, like St. Paul – above all,
hold unfailing your love for one another.
Their letters share a pattern that begins by
reminding us of the new life that we have been born into in Christ,
then calling us to humility and, with strong appeals, to holiness of
life – leaving behind living according to the flesh and entering
into the new life in the Spirit.
Peter and Paul came to share a common
understanding of the relation of the Law to the Gospel:
Paul worked it all out in his mind by a careful
reasoning and deep reading of the Old Testament; Peter needed to be
knocked over the head – having it spelled out for him by God in
signs – the three-fold vision in a dream of clean and unclean
animals let down by a curtain, with the command to kill and eat; the
seeing with his own eyes the Holy Spirit falling upon the Gentiles
and Jews alike who prophesied before him as he preached the Gospel
Peter and Paul agreed in the Council of Jerusalem
about the universal implications of Christ’s death and resurrection
– and yet, there was also temporarily a dispute between them about
the implications of the teaching. Paul is in a fury in one of his
letters about Peter’s actions when Peter visited a Gentile Church
which suggested he was backing away. And we can imagine that in
that encounter both of them deepened their understanding of the
faith that they shared.
Peter and Paul have left to us the powerful
witness of their lives.
In the Gospels and in Acts and in the letters the
personalities of Peter and Paul shine forth – their boldness to
preach the Gospel in dangerous situations again and again – their
bearing with sufferings, being beaten and being imprisoned often.
When Peter and Paul speak in similar ways about the trial of your
faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth,
though it be tried with fire – we know that both are most
trustworthy teachers – they know how their own faith and especially
how their love grew through years and years of persecution – it is
all worth it they tell us again and again!
And yet we also get a clear sense in the writings
of their exuberance and joy and gratitude.
Listen to St. Peter in today’s Epistle. Speaking
of believers he says, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable
and full of glory. Or listen to St. Paul when he is led into
the heights of contemplation, O the
depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how
unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
And elsewhere, Paul’s joy at
being persuaded that, nothing can separate us from
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus!
Let us recall tonight one incident from each of
their lives for which we can give thanks:
In the life of St. Peter, that loveable boldness
but combined with an oh-so-human failure to see one’s limitations,
made plain to the whole world on the night our Lord was betrayed:
Peter said unto
[Jesus], Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus
saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this
night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But
he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not
deny thee in any wise.
How many of us here tonight who were raised in
the Church but then spent time outside have not been strengthened
more than once, how many Christians through the ages have not been
strengthened more than once, when they recall the weakness of Peter
who denied his Lord, the love that he had of his Lord that made him
weep bitter tears of shame to know that Jesus knew his weakness, and
yet, who also did not despair, but repented, trusting in Jesus’
greater mercy and love. This is the Rock that our Lord chose. It
is upon this kind of faith in Jesus that the Church is founded and
built up – and against which the gates of hell cannot prevail.
And in the life of St. Paul let us remember his
conversion. Here was a man whose great zeal would cleanse the whole
world of any heresy so as to see the Church a spotless Bride – but
who began by getting the whole thing upside down. He discovered on
the road to Damascus he was fighting against God. In deep humility,
he submitted himself to our Lord and counted everything – his
previous understanding of his faith, his reputation, his position
among the leading Pharisees, even his family and his nation – he
counted it all as nothing lost in comparison with being found by
Christ. Because of Paul’s example we have a special hope for even
the most ardent opponents of the Church. Because of Paul’s example,
we have a special hope that Christ will overcome every
opposition we still feel in our own hearts to giving ourselves
wholly to Jesus.
Tradition holds that, under the persecutions of
Nero, St. Peter and St. Paul were both martyred:
not being a Roman citizen, was to be crucified – he is said to have
asked the authorities, who complied, that he be crucified upside
down – claiming he was not worthy to die in the manner of his Lord.
Paul, being a Roman citizen, was executed
by having his head cut off with the sword.
They did not race to their deaths, they avoided
it many times, but neither did they shrink from it when they
discerned that it was the kind of witness they were being called to
There is also a very ancient tradition dating
back to apostolic times which claims that St. Peter and St. Paul met
one another near the end of their lives just outside of Rome – the
two are supposed to have embraced and blessed each other. [from a
sermon by Pope Benedict XVI]
Two men, from such different backgrounds made
brothers in Christ and apostles to the whole world. It is hard for
us to imagine the love that they had and now have for one another,
the depth of their friendship brought about through their shared
faith in Jesus Christ.
Let us embrace what they believed, their life,
their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their
confession of faith.