18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
This verse describes two things. One is the giving of the nickname of Peter to Simon, and the description of the foundation of the Church.
Now, you can call me biased if you like, because I’m an Anglican Catholic Priest, but this is my sermon and I’ll be biased if I want to!
Who is the Rock? Many like to say the Apostle Peter is the Rock, since his name means Rocky.
There are some prophets in the Bible who say something different.
The prophet Samuel, for instance quotes Psalm 18:3: For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? (2 Samuel 22:32.)
The prophet Isaiah wrote this: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Isaiah 26:4)
Then there is the witness of a popular song at Camp, “Jesus is the Rock, and he rolled my blues away!” I mean, how can you argue with that?
If you translate some of this verse from St. Matthew into Greek, you find that Jesus gave Simon the name Petros, a masculine form of the word for a rock. Then he used “petra” which is the feminine form of the word for rock, to indicate the foundation of the Church.
One interpretation of the word “petra” is a mass of connected rock, like a foundation. Jesus told a parable of a wise and a foolish builder, in Matthew 7.
24 “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the PETRA; 25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the PETRA. (Matthew 7:24, 25)
PETROS, on the other hand, is a disconnected rock, like one might pick up and throw.
Jesus intended to build his church on the foundation, the petra, that would withstand the rain, the floods, and the wind, which are the assaults of the evil one.
The Church Father, St. Augustine of Hippo, wrote this: “I have somewhere said, concerning the apostle Peter, that the Church is founded on him, as a petra, or rock: but I know that I have since very often explained that our Lord meant Peter’s confession of him.” (Retractationes)
The Confession of St. Peter, is what he said to Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This is the petra, the foundation on which Christ has built his Church.
And who is the Church? It is us! We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and his bride. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and He will come, and take us to his Father’s house.
The powers of death will not prevail against his Church, meaning that those who have died in Christ will rise with Christ at the Last Day.
“Jesus said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This is understood to mean that all of the apostles were given this authority to bind and loose sins, that is to forgive them, or to retain them. This was demonstrated when the apostles and elders met together in council to discuss the controversy that had arisen concerning circumcision.
Act 15:6 says this: The apostles and elders met to consider this question.
While Peter spoke in favor of allowing the Gentiles to become believers, it was James who made a very compelling argument, then said, “Therefore my judgement is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,”
The Apostles, having been given this authority from Jesus, passed it to the elders who met with them.
It was the Apostles Peter and Paul who founded and built up the church in Rome, and committed it into the hands of Linus, the office of Bishop, according to St. Irenaeus.
The authority to bind and loose sins was passed from the apostles to the bishops.
Why is it necessary for the apostles and the elders to have this authority? Because without it the teaching of Jesus could be distorted by those who want to have their own way. There are many so-called Christians who think they can get away with whatever sin they like, and they never need to repent, and they may even feel they don’t need forgiveness.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, described this as Cheap Grace:
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
And grace without Jesus Christ will not bind or loose anything on earth or in heaven. The keys are necessary to prevent those who would sneak into the banquet without the proper clothing.
On the other hand, true grace is costly. Again from Bonhoffer;
“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In order to partake of the true grace of Jesus, we are required to have a contrite heart, to repent of our sins, and seek forgiveness from God, through the ministry of the Church.
As your priest I have been given that authority to bind and loose sins as well. It is called the Reconciliation of a Penitent. It is a service of this church that allows for a person to make a confidential confession to a priest who gives counsel, assigns penance, and pronounces with authority that God forgives sinners who repent.
Jesus gave his apostles the authority to continue his ministry on earth after his ascension.
The apostles in turn passed it on to the elders and bishops through the laying on of hands.
The Priests of the Temple who turned to the Lord Christ became the Priests of the Altar, re-presenting the sacrifice of Christ, that is making the one sacrifice present among us again.
We who minister the grace of God do so for you, the people of God, so that you may grow closer to Jesus, and to learn to follow him in all that you think, say, or do.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen