On Tuesday, the church celebrated the feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. There’s something odd about that. Even minor saints get their own individual feast days.Indeed, the church calendar is filled with people you’ve probably never heard of who have their own special day. But the two most famous people in the history of Christianity (after Jesus himself, of course) get squished together in one—that can’t be right, can it?
It is, in fact, correct. Anglican churches do celebrate two other feasts related to the pair: Peter’s confession on January 18 and Paul’s conversion on January 25. But the main feast for both of them, the single commemoration of their martyrdom, is celebrated on June 29, for both of them together.
On top of that, these two saints had something of a rivalry. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, advanced the idea that converts to the faith need not follow Jewish law.Peter, the rock upon which Jesus built the church, was committed to observing Jewish law. He found Paul’s actions scandalous. These two saints stood in public conflict with one another over deeply-held beliefs, and for no short period of time.
In the end, Peter and Paul were reconciled to one another, although not through compromise. The two didn’t hug it out after seeing the good in the other’s argument, hammering out an agreement that took some from Peter and some from Paul. Not at all. Paul won the argument and Peter lost. Peter watched the church he would gave his life for move decidedly away from observing the law, his beloved tradition.
Commemorating these two great saints together is a reminder that the way of God is rarely straight or easy or even clear. It’s easy to look back and think: Well, of course Peter was wrong! But it wasn’t easy to see that at the time. It literally took a revelation from God for Peter to change his mind.
The life of the church is riddled with such conflicts. Indeed, so is the entirety of life.This feast reminds the church that the path forward is often twisted and challenging. Sometimes God calls us to step away from beloved and long-standing traditions. The promise—in which lies our hope—is that God is present with us and guiding us to where we need to be, no matter the circumstances. Coming off a year that has upended nearly everything we thought we knew about church life, it’s a timely celebration indeed.
Yours in Christ,