This year it is a pleasure to have the Choir of Christchurch Cathedral in Dunedin and to welcome them for a Choral Evensong. This brief reflection observes the Vigil of St Peter
Every year when we commission a new Chapter, after a prayer and blessing, I anoint the palms of each Chapter member with simple words that run: “Christ has no hands but yours.”
They are drawn from the annihilating words attributed to St Teresa of Avila:
‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.’
When we think about these words it is hard not to be overwhelmed and have one’s heart sink – for we know ourselves, our hearts and thoughts, and know well enough our faults, enough at least to feel that our Lord could have chosen better with his followers – and that surely there must be some more dedicated, more loving, and more talented person to do this work. Yet, there it is, after election at the AGM there is this service of anointing and the work passes on – this is Christ’s work.
Yet it has always been this way. The words Christ says of Peter … “You are Peter (petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my church” (Mat.16:18) are words that point us to the strangeness of God’s grace and remind us that the call of God eludes our understanding.
The experience we have of St Peter in the gospels is underwhelming: he blusters; promises, but backs off; speaks impulsively, but too often gets things wrong. His heart seems to be in the right place but he hardly presents as the strong unyielding rock upon which the church can be built.
Thank God for that. There may be hope for us all. That the gospels don’t cover up for St Peter’s faults is very interesting: think about it, the revered leader of the early church does not have his image and reputation airbrushed in the gospels. On the contrary, some notable gaffes and failings are diligently recorded. There is hope for us all.
We treasure the memory of St Peter because we (rightly) see ourselves in him; recognise him in our weaknesses and can yet remember that here is the saint Christ used to build the church. Christ uses us, weaknesses and all: as Paul said “… we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Cor.4:7.)
In all our calling in the church to follow Christ, St Peter stands alongside us, a constant reminder that despite our faults Christ uses us for His work and it is his power through us that accomplishes what is done. Truly, “Christ has no hands, but ours.”