Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Confession of St. Peter

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tomorrow, January 18, the Church remembers The Confession of St. Peter. The following Thursday, January 25, the Church remembers The Conversion of St. Paul. The week in between these two great (yet very different) saints days has become known as The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today's midweek Eucharist at All Saints Church, where I was scheduled to preside, has been cancelled due to a winter storm. But here is what I'd planned to say to that small faithful group this morning. 

One of my favorite churches in Jerusalem is a church called St. Peter in Gallicantu. It’s built on the site that is believed to have been the home of the high priest, Caiphus. There you can see some first-century steps that Jesus may have walked down toward Golgatha, and underground crypts where Jesus may have been imprisoned. I always say "may" - we cannot know for sure. But it feels pretty real to me. 

Galli-cantu means “the cock crowed” in Latin. And in case you don’t speak Latin, there is this great big golden rooster on top of the church.

I was even more amazed to stumble into that Church and learn that it is run by the Assumptionists, the very same order that run Assumption College in Worcester where I used to teach the Bible to undergraduates. Outside of the church there is a statue of Peter being accused, by the fire, of “knowing the man.” Remember? “I don’t know the man.” I don’t know what you are talking about. Three times.

I have not gotten the readings wrong for today, I just think we need to remember the rest of the story. Today’s gospel reading is a high point for Peter and today is the Confession of Peter, remembering what this macho fisherman said at Caesarea Philippi: you are the Christ. Jesus calls him “petros”—the rock upon which the Church will be built. Rocky!

But not so long after that: “I don’t know what you are talking about.” And then the cock crows, and this grown man cries. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Some of you have perhaps been to St. Peter’s in Rome. Now there is a monument to a great saint, the premier disciple, the one who after Pentecost found his voice and his courage again, the great preacher we see in the Acts of the Apostles today. The first Bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s in Rome is a testimony, I think, to Peter’s successes and they were many. That’s the Peter we heard about today in Acts who is filled with the Holy Spirit. He’s got his mojo back! And that’s great. Amazing preacher man.

But St. Peter’s in Gallicantu—the place where the cock crowed—is a testimony to Peter’s failings on that Friday which must have been so humiliating for him. He’s supposed to be the leader. He’s supposed to be the rock. And then the cock crows and he feels like a coward and a fool. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Now this homily may say more about me than it does about Peter, or even God, but in some sense this is always true. Preachers are always, at some level, offering theological reflections on their own journeys. I have never preached a sermon where I was not speaking first to myself...

But having said that, I do think that the whole story reveals a deeper truth about the gospel.We sometimes think the world, or the diocese, or the parish, or our workplace, or our family, rests on our shoulders. We feel responsible. And we should. We want to be called petros. We want to get it right.

But the truth is that even Rocky got it wrong – big time. And strangely, I find this somewhat comforting. The preaching going on in Acts reveals not a cocky fisherman, but someone who is stronger because he’s made some mistakes. He’s let down a dear friend, as we all do sometimes. But that doesn't end the relationship. Peter's growth is about the new life that the God of second chances offers to us all.

When we confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, may we also hear the cock crowing. I say this not to tear Peter down or take anything away from him, but to remember for myself and with all of you that God’s mercy and grace is bestowed freely on us all. And that is what saves us all.