Preparing for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

This week at St John's By The Gas Station we will be celebrating the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, which falls every year on June 29.  I always love when a Feast Day falls on a Sunday, giving us a special opportunity to reflect on the life and witness of the saints as exemplars of the life of faith.  We will read two of the "alternate" readings appointed for this Feast – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ("do you not know that you are God's temple?") and Mark 8:27-35 (Jesus says to Peter, "get behind me Satan").

A few random and assorted thoughts:

  • Why do we Lutherans refer to this day as a "Festival" but the Roman Catholic tradition refers to it as a "Feast"?  Is there any significant difference in meaning between the two words?  Our friends in the Missouri Synod offer that there is no difference between the two terms:

Note: “Feast” and “festival” are synonymous in this context; both reflect the Lat. dies festus; “feasts and festivals” indicates only that both words are used in reference to certain special days other than fast days.

  • Another question – in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, we refer to these guys as Peter and Paul, not as Saints.  What's our hang-up about using the title "Saint," particularly for Biblical figures?  Aren't about half of our Lutheran congregations called "Saint" this or that?  (The Lutheran Book of Worship, Service Book and Hymnal, and Common Service Book all refer to "Saints" in their calendars)
  • The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – a celebration that marked its 100th year this year – begins with the Feast of the Confession of St Peter (January 18) and concludes with the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul (January 25).  An early alternate proposal suggested that Christian unity be celebrated on (and prayed for) on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29), the day that the church has historically commemorated their martyrdom. 

So my question is this: Why the focus on Peter and Paul for Christian unity?  Is this because of the rivalry between the two?  Or is this because Peter is a favorite saint of Roman Catholics, revered as the first Pope, and Paul is a favorite saint of Protestants, revered by them as the great grace-preaching evangelist?  Is there some other reason?

  • On this day we lift up two saints, two cornerstones of the church.  Yet we hear Paul speaking to the people at the church in Corinth (in 1 Corinthians 3) that "you are God's temple," a wonderful corrective to an excessive ecclesial piety that would limit God's presence and work to the institutional church and its traditions.  God is at work in the church – God promises to be uniquely present in the ministry and fellowship of the church – yet God is also at work beyond the church walls in the lives of the faithful, and indeed in the world at large.
  • I also love the tension of Peter – the rock on whom Christ builds the church – being called Satan by our Lord.  It's got the sinner/saint paradox written all over it.  Sin is part of the church's life.  Yet it is from our place of sinfulness that we hear our Lord's call to be the church – to live in forgiveness, grace and mercy.
  • A question naturally arises on this day: what is the church?  What does it mean to be church?  As Lutherans we teach "the church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly" (Augsburg Confession, Article VII – from The Book of Concord, trans. Kolb/Wengert).  In the nearly 500 years since the Reformation an overly-simplistic dichotomy has developed, one which says that the Protestants emphasize preaching the Gospel and the Roman Catholics concern themselves with sacramental rites and rituals (as if the Catholics don't preach the Gospel and Protestants have no ritual!).  Yet in the Augsburg Confession, both strands of church – the Gospel-preaching ministry Protestants have emphasized, and the sacramental ministry of such importance to the Roman Catholic church – are held together.  As Lutherans we are Evangelical (ie, Protestant) and Catholic. 

This Evangelical Catholic theme also works if you accept another over-simplification about the Catholic/Protestant divide, which was suggested above – that Peter is especially revered by Catholics, and Paul especially so by Protestants.  On this day, we hold the two together – the "Catholic Saint" and the "Protestant Saint" – as models of the Godly life and pillars of the Christian Church.

(A note about oversimplifications – if I use these characterizations in my preaching, it will be in part to break them down and attempt to articulate a new way of speaking about Christian ministry and the church.)

That's it for now.  If you have any thoughts, please share!

Published by Lutheran Zephyr

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

3 thoughts on “Preparing for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

  1. dang – i shoulda planned ahead. anyhoo – Len Sweet in his newest offering “11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without”… had a chapter on how everybody needs a Peter/Paul in their life because we all need a “Yoda.” sampler from chapter:
    “Yoda, of course is the Jedi master and instructor of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the epic myth known as Star wars. And whether your last name is Skywalker or Sweet, each one of us needs a Yoda – a mentor, a guru, a coach, a spiritual teacher/director – if we are to complete successfully the missions to which God is summoning us…
    Each one of us needs someone to look up to, a wiser (usually) older, God-energized guide who can help us find our way through this new and unfamiliar landscape that is not for faint hearts or weak stomachs. Who can help us navigate those rivers of life that seem or we deem uncrossable? Who can help us move to new levels of perception and experience?”
    Just food for thought for the feast…

  2. great thoughts from both you and hotcup! re: the “saint” paranoia, perhaps if I were preaching (which I’m not, this week, but the next two weeks, yes), maybe I’d make something of the “saint/sinner” simul justus et peccator thing. So, protestant are all on “we’re just forgiven sinners” and catholics are all on revering the “saints” but isn’t it really a both/and? The most awe-inspiring of us are sinners too, and the most sinnerly are also saints!

  3. With respect to the designation “Saint”: There is a liturgical rule that in naming a feast (or festival) one uses the highest — and only one — honorific that can be applied to the person. For Peter and Paul, “Apostle” is of a higher order than “saint.” It is the same for the Theotokos, i.e., the “Mother of God”: Her day in August in the ELW is “Mary, Mother of our Lord” — a title that puts her on a higher plane than would the mere designation as “saint.”
    I know that this all goes over most Lutherans’ heads and causes either mournful head-shaking or dangerous rolling of eyes back into the head. But it is only commonsense, I think that we recognize that there are major and minor orders of those who have witnessed to faith — not in terms of their value before God or their standing in the heavenly choir, but in terms of their service to the One Church through time and space. I love my sainted grandfather, but I have to acknowledge that when it comes to the work of the Gospel, Peter and Paul probably played a more key role than he. Thus while he can be Saint Clarence (or “CA” as her preferred), Peter and Paul should be “, Apostles.”

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