We close out the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” today with the feast of “The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”. Last Friday we began by celebrating “The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle”.
We don’t usually make a big deal out of this week of prayer for unity—I’m not sure why. But it seems appropriate to frame the week with these two great personalities. The church is what it is to a large extent because of these two men— other than Jesus himself, they seem to have been the two most formative influences on the early church.
In Galatians Paul mentions staying with Peter for fifteen days in Jerusalem. I’ve been wondering what they talked about, what they did together. I’ve been imagining them visiting the ancient limestone quarry that is believed to have been the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial and resurrection. Peter would have known the place well; Christians may already have built some kind of shrine there. (It may very well be where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is today.)
I’m imagining them sharing their very different experiences of faith and conversion. Paul’s telling him about his sudden, dramatic Damascus Road experience. Then years of unflagging missionary zeal, a sense of absolute clarity about his call from God. If Paul ever had a moment of doubt, he doesn’t tell about it in anything that has come down to us.
I wonder if standing before that empty tomb Peter shared his very different experience. No dramatic conversion, but moments of partial clarity and insight along the way, living and working alongside Jesus for those three years or so. At Caesarea Philippi–You are the Christ. On the mount of transfiguration. That astonishing morning at this empty tomb. But waffling and stumbling along the way, falling down and getting up. Those three denials, branded into his soul. That last painful encounter with the Risen Lord on the beach. Lord, you know I love you. We don’t usually speak of Peter’s “conversion”—what would it mean in his case?
One week of prayer for Christian unity; one faith, one Lord, one baptism. Two very different saints. Three cheers for varieties of religious experience.
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