Friday, January 18, 2008

The Proper of the Day: The Confession of St. Peter

St. Peter, along with St. Paul, gets extra days on the calendar. His Confession - "You are the Messiah, the Christ" - we commemorate today, and then he gets another day (with St. Paul) on June 29, on the traditional date of their martyrdom. (Paul's other day is his Conversion, which we celebrate a week from today.) Interestingly, in the pre-Vatican-II Roman Calendar, today was St. Peter's Chair at Rome. Now it's an open day, although St. Paul still gets his extra day a week from now in the Roman rite as well.

Today also marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Episcopal Church has a nice bulletin insert about how this came about here. Since this week began exactly 100 years ago, I wonder if we 'Piskies added the Conversion of St. Peter in the 1979 BCP as a way to more formally mark its beginning. Perhaps the Romans dropped a feast today because well, after, all, if you want unity, y'all just come back to Mother Church....

Regardless of this day's provenance or theopolitical significance or lack thereof, it's not a bad idea to commemorate the most basic confession of Christianity. Of course, when we say "You are the Messiah, the Christ!" it means both more and less then when Peter said it. It means more because we have the fullness of Jesus' ministry in our minds and hearts: his birth, work among us, passion, death, and resurrection. Peter only saw what he saw, but he was led by the Spirit to acknowledge Jesus as the long-expected One who was to come to Israel.We can speculate as long as we want whether Peter, who apparently was not very well educated, would have known much about the prophesies and the the beliefs about the Messiah of his day and age, so to impute more meaning to his pronouncement than what he himself had witnessed might be pushing it too far. But at the same time, it's worth noting that when the Gospels were being written down, to say "Jesus is Lord" was high treason, because the Emperor was lord, after all. So Peter's Confession means more to the earliest hearers of the Gospel than perhaps to us, since to hear that phrase was to really take it to heart that that was a Lord greater the powers and principalities of the day. It's far easier to us to make that Confession because of the freedoms we celebrate in the West of expression and thought and speech. It's also perhaps cheaper for us, because we aren't putting our lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor on the line when we do so.

May each of us learn to understand both the awesome power, and the awesome responsibility, of declaring Jesus as Messiah, not only in the First Century, but especially now in the Twenty-First.

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 for ever. Amen.


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