Today is not only the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, but also the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week falls each January between two holy days: The Confession of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to 1907 when Spencer Jones, a priest in the Church of England, wrote to the American Episcopal priest Paul Wattson, suggesting they might devote an annual day of prayer for ecumenism on June 29nd, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Wattson agreed that this was important but instead proposed an eight-day observance rather than a single day.
Peter and Paul are appropriate patron saints for this movement toward Christian unity. For one reason, they represent two distinctively different ways people come to know Jesus as God. Peter is brought into relationship with God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. His confession of Jesus as the messiah becomes the rock on which Christ builds his church. Paul enters a relationship with God through a transformational conversion experience of Jesus Christ that changed the course of Christian history.
As Christians, we experience Christ and understand Christ in hundreds of different ways. Faith is intensely personal, and it can be tempting to think that our way of knowing Christ is the only way. However, the gospel appointed for today from Matthew 16 shows us that from the very beginning of our tradition there’s never been a universal way to understand Jesus.
“Who do people say that I am?” Jesus asks.
John the Baptist. Elijah. Jeremiah. The Messiah.
There was diversity in opinions about Jesus’ identity from his own apostles! Of course there will be diversity in opinions about Jesus today!
Maybe this is why Peter’s confession of faith is so important. His words offer a heaping dose of perspective. As followers of Jesus, we can disagree on all sorts of issues. We can disagree on the best way to encounter Christ in our lives, the best instruments to use in worship, the best way to preach a sermon, the best way to demonstrate the gifts of the Spirit. But the one thing that we must agree upon as Christians, is that, as Peter confesses, Jesus is the Messiah.
Differences will always exist in our various denominations. There are nearly as many guesses about Jesus’ identity during his lifetime as there were people to guess and a similar diversity exists today. There are over 33,000 different Christian denominations in the world. When we look at this global Christian family, we seem a lot more separated than united. But today on the feast day of Peter’s confession, I’m reminded that no matter how many ways people believe is the best way to worship or experience God, we are all united in this one belief that Jesus is the Messiah.
Today at the beginning of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, take time to pray that God might help you see unity over separateness. Talk with your children about seeking common ground with classmates causing them strife. Personally, I will use this occasion to finally talk to my children about their nonstop bickering. Lately, their distinctive personalities have led to countless arguments and disagreements over everything from which show to watch, how to effectively put away clean clothes, and how to engage friends on play dates. Their arguments are both mighty and many. But, as in the wider church, despite their countless differences, I am certain that unity is possible.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]