Monday, June 28, 2010

Loving Each Other as if the Gospel Depends Upon It -- Because it Does

How glorious are these apostles, who in life loved one another, and in death rejoice together for evermore.
- Antiphon on the Magnificat for the First Evensong of the Feast of Sts. Peter & Paul

The Acts of the Apostles attests that Peter and Paul didn’t always find it easy to get along. They represented, at times, different “polarities” of the early Christian Church; Peter, with his simple and rough faith rooted in Jewish observance, and well-educated and skilled Paul, the recipient of a special revelation of Christ on the Road to Damascus, with his mission to the Gentiles. Yet, it was Peter who first baptized a Gentile (the Centurion Cornelius, whom we remember on February 4th), and it was Paul who was apparently very quick to teach the Old Testament to his Gentile converts in order to give them a context in which to understand Jesus’ teaching and ministry (see the Letter to the Galatians!). They certainly had their differences in manner, comfort-zone, and approach; they had no ultimate difference in their faith. It is this fundamental unity the above antiphon speaks of when it says that “in life they loved one another, and in death rejoice together for evermore.”

The glory of the early Church was not only its message of Christ Crucified, Risen, and Ascended; it was the unity of people who had every reason to be divided. This unifying power of the Gospel – drawing together people of different backgrounds, castes, classes, mind-sets, &c. -- was perhaps the first thing that struck people encountering the Christian community.  While we talk about having an imagined “inclusivity,” many of our churches are still essentially “gated spiritual communities.” The power of the Gospel to bridge differences in people has faltered in many modern churches precisely because something other than the Gospel – social, political, class, or ideological agendas – has been put in the Gospel’s place. The Church of the future will have no time for such “red-lined” congregations. A much more authentic Christian catholicity (a Greek word meaning, in this case, wholeness) will be expected.

Peter and Paul were martyred, according to tradition, at about the same time in Rome. Their witness, though different in character and manner, was the same in essentials. This could happen because they each loved their Lord. Perhaps they loved Christ a bit differently; perhaps they used different words or different forms of prayer. It didn’t matter. What mattered was their loving service to their Lord and His sheep. Peter and Paul both knew that being part of Jesus’ flock makes the things we tend to see as most important in our world – social position, gender, sexuality, race, party membership, &c. – irrelevant. What matters is a loving obedience, a desire to be like Jesus.

When Christians once again are humbled enough to realize this, they will finally put an end to their divisions and show forth to the world that unity of purpose and allegiance which was found in these two Great Apostles we remember today – a unity that perhaps more than anything else tells the World that in Christ Jesus, a miracle of love has really happened.

Collect for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified
you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by
their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your
Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which
is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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