+ ‘Sing to the Lord, you saints of his, and praise his holy Name.’
These are words from today’s psalm we have just sung. We are all called to be saints. Let’s imagine a group of aspiring saints in a church who are having a garden day, tidying up their church garden. One says, ‘right, now, here’s a list of the tasks to be done’, they organise everyone and then get busy sorting out the tea and bacon rolls, so everyone is provided for. But not everyone wants to be organised. Another one of the saints of this Church has been thinking about the wider picture. ‘No’, they say, ‘wait a minute, we can’t cut that hedge and we need to think about accessibility. We must move those stones in front of the gate and not bother trimming the rhododendrons’. It looks like a fight is brewing between saints one and two, but the third saint hasn’t noticed because they’ve gone off into a corner and are quietly weeding a remote flower bed while praying the Jesus Prayer and thinking about heaven.
Which one are you? I’m sure we have all these types here. I think I’m probably a mixture of them. The Organiser; the Intellectual; and the Thinker – or, the Extrovert; the Person of Principles; and the Introvert. ‘Sing to the Lord, you saints of his, and praise his holy Name.’ We are called to praise God, each in our own way because we are different types of people and we are called to be different types of saints.
The reason I’m saying this is because of our three readings today. We have the Conversion of St Paul; we have John having a vision of heaven; and we have Peter going fishing with John and, having messed up, being brought back to the way of love by the risen Christ. What they all have in common is that they show who they really are when they meet the risen Lord, the Lamb upon the throne, the Easter Jesus. Our Liturgy today gives us these three types to teach us about being a Christian and about the Church.
First is Peter, in the Gospel; the rock on which Christ builds his Church, the type of Bishops, Church leaders and those who serve others and make rotas. He is a fisherman, a practical man who jumps into the sea and gathers in the net with the fish, 153 fish symbolising gathering all the nations into the Church. He is a big impulsive bear of a man, but his heart leaps ahead of his abilities. After the last Supper he said to Jesus, ‘if all the others leave you, I will never betray you’. And then, at the crunch, when Jesus is captured, he denies him three times as the cock crows. Poor Peter.
Today’s psalm says, ‘For weeping may remain all night, and heavy sorrow borne; But with the dawn returns the light; rejoicing comes with morn’. Peter wept bitterly when he denied Jesus but now he gets a new chance. Three denials and three times Jesus calls forth his love and gives him a mission: feed my sheep, lead my Church. Die for me. We sung about it in the first hymn, ‘thrice fallen thrice restored’.
We notice Peter, but did you notice it was the disciple Jesus loved, John, who said to Peter ‘it is the Lord’ when they made the massive catch of fish. Earlier in John’s gospel John runs to the empty tomb first but holds back to let Peter in. John is the lover, the mystic, the contemplative. He sees things before the others but he isn’t arrogant, he doesn’t form a Church of the spiritual elite, he respects the leader Jesus has appointed. John shares his insights with Peter, Peter who has a big heart but usually less insight but who has been appointed leader of the Church. The John of Revelation in the second reading is probably not the beloved disciple who wrote the Gospel, but he is the same type, a mystic.
Finally there is Paul, Saul the persecutor, the scholarly rabbi who takes ideas to their logical conclusions and acts on them. Jesus doesn’t argue with this zealot but blasts him with glory on the way to Damascus, ‘why do you persecute me?’ Paul thought he was persecuting dangerous religious dissidents but in a flash of light he knew these Christians were the Body of Christ, by persecuting them he was persecuting Christ the Lord, and for Jews ‘Lord’ is a name of God. Paul was wrong. He goes on retreat to Arabia, then turns his phenomenal insight and talent to preaching Jesus and founding Churches. Paul is a prophet, he speaks truth to power. In Galatians he says that soon after his conversion he tells Peter to his face he has got things wrong. On the other hand you see Peter and James criticising Paul in their letters.
So we have three saints in creative tension, three types at the beginning of the Church. Peter; Paul and John. The Organiser; the Intellectual; and the Thinker – the Leader; the Prophet; and the Mystic. John, Paul and Peter (like John, Paul, Ringo and George) thus all contribute something unique to the mix. Some say that John the Mystic represents the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Paul the Preacher the Protestants, and Peter the Pope the Roman Catholics, but I’m not convinced. Jesus himself includes all three as he is called King, Prophet and Priest. We are about to say in the Creed that we believe in One Catholic Church. ‘Catholic’ is from a Greek phrase ‘kath’holon’ meaning ‘according to the whole’ or ‘universal’. The Scottish Episcopal Church is a part of this Catholic Church and if we are serious about being Catholics we must hold these three gifts in a creative tension. This is true in our Church, we have all three types here among us. This is also true in each of us, we each have bits of John, Paul & Peter in us as we pray, share the faith and stand up for the truth, and serve others. Which one of these do we most need to develop in our own life?