Friday, June 27, 2008

Some Notes on the Feast of St Peter and Paul the Apostles
29 June

This day is one of the oldest of Christian festivals; as far back as we know, the two great apostles have been commemorated together with great solemnity. Both Apostles are said to have been martyred at Rome in the persecution of Nero. The feast on June 29th celebrated with either their death or the translation of their relics.. St Augustine, St Leo and others of the fathers have left sermons for this day. In the first Prayer Book a feast only of St Peter was kept on this day. Although Bishop Cosin attempted to restore the feast as of both Peter and Paul at the Restoration, his provisions were not adopted in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The two Apostles are commemorated together in the Canadian Book of 1962.
St Augustine explains the celebration of both Apostles on this day:
Both apostles share the same feast day, for thee two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life their labours, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith. [Sermon 295, FAS p. 596]
The feast of Peter and Paul has been given an additional interest this year as the opening of the “Pauline Year” declared by the Pope to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the Apostle’s birth. Although the date of his birth is unknown, it is a reasonable guess that it was sometime in the first decade AD.

The Readings
First Reading: Ezekiel 34.11-16. The ministry of the prophet Ezekiel extended from 593, before the conquest of Judah to 563 BC, during the captivity in Babylon. Over this period we may distinguish “oracles of warning” of the first period of his ministry (chs 1-24), “oracles against the foreign nations” of the middle period (chs 25-32), and “oracles of hope” from the final period, after the fall of Jerusalem (chs 33-48). The book contains many visions and images from which Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature has arisen. By the way, it should be noted that “apocalypse” mearely means “revelation” and only later took on the sense of a :final catastrophe”. Despite the difficulty of the imagery, as the RCL notes comment, “the prophet's message to the exiles is clear: he assures his hearers of God's abiding presence among them, and he emphasizes God's involvement in the events of the day, so that Israel and all nations ‘will know that I am the Lord’".
The Prophet is commanded to prophesy that God himself will seek out his scattered sheep and feed them as a shepherd. This is not only a prophecy for the people, it is also against their rulers and priests. It had long been the custom of kings in the Middle East to refer to themselves as shepherd of the people. When we read it today in conjunction with the passage from St John’s Gospel, we find a resonance of the words “feed” and “sheep”. Christians understand that God’s promise “I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out” was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and that he has given the commission to feed his sheep to his apostles.

Psalm 87. When he preached on this psalm, Saint Augustine of Hippo began by saying, “The Psalm which has just been sung is short, if we look to the number of its words, but of deep interest in its thoughts.” It is also full of interest for scholars, since the text has suffered in transmission. Nonetheless, it is clearly a hymn in praise of Zion, the City of God, and the true mother of all who believe (see Galatians 4.26). In the Annotated Book of Common Prayer, Blunt wrote: “Whatever application this Psalm may originally have had to the earthly Sion has been transfigured and glorified byteh subsequent Revelation of the City of God in the prophetic vision of St John.” So when we sing that the city is founded on the holy mountain, we remember that the household of God is “built upon te foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2.20). The psalm looks from God’s gathering together of scattered Israel to the gathering of all nations as children of Zion;, and so to the work of Paul and Peter in preaching to the nations.
Note that “Rahab” (v. 4) was the name of the sea monster. The name came to be applied, poetically, to Egypt. Verse 7 is apparently only a fragment.

The Epistle: 2 Timothy 4.1-8. First and Second Timothy and Titus are know n as the “Pastoral Epistles”. Since they are similar to one another but different from the other Pauline letters in style and vocabulary, “it is difficult to ascribe them in their present form to the apostle Paul” (NOAB).. While a case may be made for Paul’s authorship, the fact that in ancient times it was very common to produce a work under the name of a admired teacher (see below), it is easier to assume that a disciple of Paul used some of his unpublished messages to address problems in the Church in the generation after his death However, while it is very likely that this is the case, and that the letters date from sometime after Paul’s death, there is no warrant for stating this as if it were an absolute fact (as in the RCL notes: “To understand this letter, it helps to know that, while it appears to be written by Paul, it was actually written by one of his followers (in his name) some time later: it reflects the Church’s situation about 100 AD, so we contend with a time warp.” Emphasis is mine). Whatever the date, and however much of the letter is by Paul (as we would understand it), 2 Timothy is an earnest letter from a veteran missionary to a younger colleague, urging endurance as the most necessary gift. The passage today includes the moving words of farewell (verses 6-8) which testify to Christian strength in the face of certain martyrdom. This indeed speaks to the condition of St Paul at the end of his life.
Note the exhortation in verse 2 to “be urgent in season and out of season” or “whether the time is favourable or unfavourable” (as the NRSV explains rather than translates the verse). RCL notes: “This clause is unusual because, in the ancient world, one was urged to speak only at the appropriate time; however, for Christians, time is for God to determine, so the speaker should leave the question of timeliness to God (see Titus 1:3; 1 Timothy 2:6,6:15). The word of God is always in season”.
The warning that people will turn from sound teaching and accumulate “teachers to suit their own liking” is probably ture of every age, but seems very apt in this time when the many teachings available seem to be a smorgasbord from which one may choose this pretty thing or that, making no commitment to anything but themselves.
A note on Pseudonymous Authorship from the New Oxford Annotated Bible might be of interest and use: “In antiquity pseudonymous authorship was a widely accepted literary convention. Therefore the use of an apostle’s name in reasserting is teaching was not regarded as dishonest but merely a way of reminding the church of what it had received from God through the Apostle.” The note further states that the New Testament’s authority depends not on “their human authorship, but upon their intrinsic significance, which the church, under the guidance of the Spirit, has recognized as the authentic voice of apostolic teaching.”
The Holy Gospel, John 21.15-19. After his Resurrection, the Lord Jesus three times asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me more than these”, and three times gave him the commission “Feed my sheep”. This is a threefold forgiveness and restoration matching Peter’s threefold denial of Christ.
This event is part of the third resurrection appearance described in St John's Gospel. After the resurection, seven of the disciples were fishing on teh Sea of Galilee or Tiberias, but caught nothing. When morning came the risen Jesus stood on the beach amd asked if they had caught anything. They did not recognize him. When they said they hadn't, he directed them to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Doing so, they caught more fish than they y could haul in. When the came ashore (to leave out some details) Jesus fed them bread and fish [John 21.1-14]. After this breakfast comes the passage we read today.
On the north-west shore of the Sea of Tiberias or Galilee, not far from Capernaum, is Tabgha, the traditional site of this event, called “the Primacy of Peter”. In the church there in front of the altar is the rock on which, according to tradition, Jesus and the disciples ate. Outside the church is a beautiful garden with round stone seats and an open-air altar on which, as I recall are carved in Latin, the words “Here the Lord gave Peter the Primacy of Love.”
The notes on this passage over at the RCL “Clippings” are helpful, and do not need to be repeated here, but there are some other points to be noted.
The passage begins “When they had finished breakfast”. This does more than link this passage to the one immediately preceding, it reminds us that it is the risen Lord Jesus who fed his disciples by the sea of Galilee that now commissions Peter to feed his flock.
In the three-fold question, Jesus uses the name Simon, rather than Peter (Rock), perhaps in token that the disciple has not yet been rehabilitated and restored.
The difference between “sheep” and “lambs” and “tend” and “feed” does not appear to be of great significance in this passage.
In the conversation two different verbs meaning “love” are used, agapē, godly love or charity, and philia, the love of friends. Jesus first asks Peter “Do you love (agapas) me more than these”, to which Peter answers “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philō) you. The second time Jesus asks, “Do you love (agapas) me?” and Peter again says, “I love (philō) you”. The third time, however, Jesus asks “Do you love (phileis) me?” to which Peter, sad at being asked yet again, responds “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love (philō) you.” Just what the difference signifies in this passage is not entirely clear to me, but two points may be noted. First, Simon Peter’s use of philō, denotes affection rather than devotion; recalling the extravagance of his assurance of devotion before he denied the Lord, we can recognize here a new humility. Second, at the third question, Jesus adopts the word Peter has been using, almost as if to accept that Peter can only go so far. Here we see the courtesy of the Lord, for in the end he counted Peter’s affection as devotion, and gave him the strength to follow him even to death. So we should never fear to go to him when we feel cool in our love, and think we are unnacceptable. He will take what we have and make it what he needs. If our love is cool, he will blow it into fire.
Note: For the next month I will be serving Sundays at Saint Bartholomew's, Toronto, where the lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer is followed. For those Sundays the lectionary notes (if I can manage them!) will be on those readings.


Felicity Pickup said...
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Felicity Pickup said...

re "So we should never fear ... make it what he needs."

Heartening. Instructive. Thx.