HOMILY FOR SOLEMNITY OF ST PETER AND ST PAUL
29 JUNE 2018
In the antiphons and responsories for the feasts of the apostles Peter and Paul, as indeed for the apostles in general, they are frequently described as princes – so in the responsory at Vespers, the apostles are the princes set over all the earth. There is indeed a royal theme in the readings: in the Gospel Jesus says: ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’ and then ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom’. A princely gift. In the first reading Peter is the prince whom no gaol can hold: an angel touches him to wake him, he gets up, puts on his belt and walks out of the prison of Herod, the mere puppet king. In the second reading Paul says ‘I have kept the faith; all that is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me’.
Princes suggest a king, and of course Christ is the King. And yet he is a strange sort of king, as in Donne’s poem ‘Oh let me then his strange love still admire, kings pardon, but he bore our punishment’ and ‘God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh that so he might be weak enough to suffer woe’.
Christ is a strange sort of king, because his kingship depends on the cross, and Saints Peter and Paul are strange sorts of princes, because their royal state depends on their martyrdom. Jesus’ last recorded words nearly to Peter are these, as we know so well (John 21:18-19): ‘In all truth I tell you, when you were young you put on your belt’ – [as when he walked out of the prison] – ‘and you walked where you liked; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you were you would rather not go. By these words, he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said Follow me’.
And then when St Paul is looking for how to describe what it means to be an apostle, a prince among the people, he says this (1 Corinthians 4:8-10) ‘Well I wish you were kings and we could be kings with you. For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on show, right at the end, like men condemned to death: we have been exhibited as a spectacle to the whole universe, both angelic and human. Here we are, fools for Christ’s sake.’
So brethren, whatever might make us think as priests, as monks, as the people of God, that it is ever going to be any different for us?