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Peter has often been called the ‘Prince of the Apostles’ because of the words of Jesus re-naming him, from Simon to Cephas. This was the Aramaic form of the Greek word Peter, which means ‘rock’. Jesus said that on this rock he would build his Church. 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.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
whose blessèd apostles Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church,
inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
As the hills stand about Jerusalem,
so the Lord stands round about his people,
from this time forth for evermore.
The sceptre of wickedness shall not hold sway
over the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous turn their hands to evil.
Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
and to those who are true of heart.
Those who turn aside to crooked ways
the Lord shall take away with the evildoers;
but let there be peace upon Israel.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
How is it possible to give due honour to two such important figures in the history of Christianity in just a few words? Peter, the rock upon which the Church of Christ has been built, and Paul, the zealous Pharisee and persecutor of early Christians who became the first great apostle to the Gentiles. These two men achieved so much in such a short space of time. How is it possible to honour all of that in just a few words?
If they were able to answer my question, I am very confident that they would be horrified. They would see no need for honour and praise to be poured on them. The only one to be honoured and praised in their eyes was, and is, Jesus himself. Like many others who have lived since, they would say, I am sure, we were just obeying orders; we were just doing what we were asked to do … by the Son of God.
Peter and Paul are honoured by the Church, of course. Indeed, it is at this time of the year that most ordinations into the diaconate and the priesthood take place. Those who have heard and responded to God’s call in their lives are set aside to do that which he has asked of them: to love and serve the communities in which they are set, to feed and strengthen the faithful, to nurture and build communities of faith. When we look back at the lives of Peter and Paul, it is easy to see why the day on which we recall their martyrdom is considered to be so important. This day gives us a moment each year in which we can measure our own response to God’s call against the yardstick of these two great figures.
The lives of Peter and Paul were very different, just as their respective ministries were different. Again, they provide us with a model to emulate. We are all different, we are all individuals, and yet we were all created in the image of God. Our individuality, our uniqueness, is a source of strength in that it provides a magnificent kaleidoscope of skill and talent with which to further God’s mission in this world. Like Peter and Paul, we do not easily see ourselves as emissaries for Christ, but that is our calling. No matter who we are, what our social situation may be or how unworthy we may consider ourselves to be, God sees into our hearts and God knows the role we can fulfil in his name.
Let us pray that our hearts and minds might be ready for God’s call and that, like Peter and Paul, we might set self aside and tread the path that has been laid for us.
Prayers of intercession
Encouraged by our fellowship with all the saints, let us make our prayers to the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, your Son called men and women to leave the past behind them and to follow him as his disciples in the way of the cross. Look with mercy upon those whom he calls today, marks with the cross and makes his disciples within the Church.
Your Son told his disciples not to be afraid and at Easter breathed on them his gift of peace. Look with mercy upon the world into which he sent them out, and give it that peace for which it longs.
Your Son formed around him a company who were no longer servants but friends, and he called all those who obeyed him his brother and sister and mother. Look with mercy upon our families and our friends and upon the communities in which we share.
Your Son sent out disciples to preach and heal the sick. Look with mercy on all those who yearn to hear the good news of salvation, and renew among your people the gifts of healing.
Your Son promised to those who followed him that they would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel and would share the banquet of the kingdom. According to your promise, look with mercy on those who have walked with Christ in this life and now have passed through death.
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: so join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for the week
Lord of all,
in whom we live and move and have our being,
renew our hearts through your Holy Spirit,
that we may long to draw close to you in prayer,
that we may have the faith to hear your call on our lives,
and that we may have the courage
to tread the path you have set before us,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.