Peter and Paul – 29th of June

It might seem slightly odd that two such important men as St Peter and St Paul should have to share a day’s festival rather than getting one of their own. In actual fact they are both remembered on other days of the Church year as well, but the principal occasion for remembering them is the 29th of June. 

The reason we place them together is that they both ended up in Rome at the beginning of its Christian history and shaped the church community there. They were both martyred in the first great persecution of the Church under Nero, and were remembered with love and gratitude so that one of the very first Christian inscriptions we have, from the Roman catacombs reads ‘Pray for us, Peter and Paul’. Both men were the authors of key parts of what was to become the New Testament, Paul’s letters reflect some of the earliest Christian reflection on God, while Peter’s narrative lies behind our oldest Gospel, that of Mark. Wonderfully, his own letters reveal that like the rest of us he sometimes struggled to understand Paul! 

But what I love about Peter and Paul is their contrasts. Paul was an intellectual, unmarried and fanatical about his Pharisaic version of the Jewish faith. Peter was a working man with a family business, married and living in historical Israel, whereas Paul came from one of the many Jewish settlements of the diaspora. Peter travelled and lived with Jesus for three years, while Paul only encountered him after the resurrection – one of the significant proofs incidentally of the validity of the resurrection itself! Peter initially was inclined to remain rooted with the Jewish Christians, Paul was called from the beginning to work with the pagans. 

But one characteristic that the two shared was their passion. Peter always comes over as impetuous, plunging out of the boat to meet Jesus, and swearing that he would serve him with no thought of the future, while Paul speaks of his enthusiasm and self sacrifice in dramatic terms. This shared faith lived by two such different but attractive men ignited the Gospel message at the heart of the greatest city in the world, and proved that love was stronger than death. 

‘Peter and Paul, pray for us...