Dear Friends in Christ,
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Yesterday, January 18, we observed the feast day of The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle. In this context, the use of the word “confession” refers to Peter’s undeniable clarity that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus’ response was to identify Peter as the “rock” upon which the Church will be built. The image of a rock is very easy to understand. It is stable, solid and, a very large rock is immovable. One would certainly choose a rock for the foundation of a building project as opposed to sand.
When I was a kid, I liked to stand on the beach right where the ocean waves washed up and pulled back. I would wait as a wave washed up and over my feet and then watch as the receding wave would pull away the sand around and under my feet. I could feel my feet slowly sink deeper into the wet sand. I used to stand there and feel that sensation wave after wave. I wondered how deep my feet could sink, and I wondered how many waves it would take for me to be ankle-deep in the sand. But I never could get that far because the sand under my feet became more and more uneven, making it impossible for me to remain standing. I always ended up falling off balance as more sand was pulled out from under my waiting feet.
Jesus’ words to Peter are one of the key quotes we, the Church, use to remind ourselves of the Church’s endurance and stability. It may be a challenge today as we struggle to be “Church” the way we think we ought to be. The list of things needed to continue being that Church is long and more like a distant memory than a dream for the future. Jesus’ words to Peter can be interpreted as a prescription for a site plan. But let’s try reading his words not in terms of building a structure but in terms of how we sense, with our bodies, what it means to feel stable, balanced, and grounded as if we are standing on a rock. Often it is easiest to know this feeling of balance and being grounded when we have known the imbalance and instability of trying to stand in shifting sands.
Do you remember a time when you were in prayer or in community singing as one voice and feeling to your very core that you were anchored and grounded by God’s love known through Jesus? What was the source of that feeling? How did you nurture it, support it, and share it with someone else? My guess is that somewhere in your reflection, LOVE will surface and frame everything else.
The poetry of Peter as the rock on which the Church will be built is located in the metaphor. Peter is not actually and really a rock. Peter is like a rock. His heart, his love for Jesus, is stable, grounded, and immovable like a rock. The foundation of the Church – the Body of Christ- is not a perfectly-identified piece of rock on which to lay a physical foundation. The foundation of the Church is LOVE, whose power and promise become the ground of our faith; and whose stability and endurance allow us to get our bearings, to find our balance, and to embrace others from a place of deep-rootedness and strength.
Peter is our rock because he loved Jesus. He is the foundation of the Church because he reminds us that it is our love for God, understood in and through Jesus, upon which all else can and will be built.
Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.