Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Put On Your Cloak and Follow Me

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.”  Acts 12:6-8

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.  Matthew 16:15-18A

Lord, please stand by me and give me strength in the darkest hours when we are most filled with doubt.  When you rescue me from my personal prison, help me to proclaim your Good News with fervor and authenticity. 

How fittingly that St. Peter, the reluctant but passionate leader, from the crucifixion of Jesus to his own, was rescued on the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The was the holy feast that marked the beginning of the end for Jesus.  First, the Passover commemorated the redemption from slavery and the departure of the Israelites from Egypt by night. It began at sundown after the Passover lamb was sacrificed in the temple.  Peter’s departure coincided with the anniversary of this flight.
But that is not all.  The Passover supper also is associated with the eating of unleavened bread, a reminder of the affliction of the Israelites and of the haste surrounding their departure. Also, note the haste in which Peter’s departure is effected once he was freed from his chains and his imprisonment. 

Praise and thanks to God for his goodness in the past were combined at this dual festival with the hope of future salvation. Similar praise and thanks are offered by St. Peter for his delivery from captivity. 

All the miracles throughout the Bible occur because the Lord or the Spirit of the Lord stand by his children and gives them strength.  Thus, the requirement that Peter did not just stand up and walk out.  He needed his escort and accompaniment from the angel of the Lord. 

St. Peter embraced his suffering and imprisonment as a requirement of working out his own salvation. It isn't enough to simply believe or have faith.  After his denials, St. Peter professed that faith at the “Last Breakfast.”   To be free of evil, St. Peter has to work hard through great peril and through Christ to secure his freedom.  He does not find that in some lofty heaven but right on earth in the prisons and hospitals and orphanages.

On the morning of the Ascension, as Jesus left their sight, the apostles were reminded, quite dramatically, of something Jesus had told them. Two men in brilliant white clothes appeared to them, and asked them why they were looking up to heaven. Jesus had told them very clearly where he was now to be found. He would be found among the hungry, the deprived, the marginalized, and the homeless. In Cry the Beloved Country, Alan Paton writes, "Do not look for me just in sanctuaries, or in the precise words of theologians, or in the calm of the countryside. Look for me in the place where people are struggling for their very survival as human beings." [i]

Peter found Christ in the prison of his denial, in the prison of his captivity, and in the prison of his faith.  Only then, could he pick up his cross daily and follow his friend and suffering servant. Peter overcame the physical authority of leaders who put him into prison to emerge as the authority with the actual keys to heaven.  While art and literature show St. Peter with actual keys, the emotional and spiritual qualities that St. Peter represents are the keys we must inherit and imitate in order to get into heaven.

When were you most aware of the Lord standing by you?  When the going gets tough, is when we are most in need and least aware of the hand the Lord places in our lives.

Martin Luther King loved this quote: "You write a new page of the gospel each day, by the things that you do, and the words that you say. People read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?"

As we contemplate two great saints today, how can you write a new page of the Good News with our awareness of and action required to put on our cloak of Christ and follow Jesus? 

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