As we can not gather together for the feast this year, Rev. Mike - with the help of the parish priests of St Peter's Chorley and St Paul's Adlington, and with guest preacher the Bishop of Burnely - has put together a service of Holy Communion.
‘[Herod] proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.’ Acts 12:3-5
Brothers and sisters, I’m going crazy with lockdown, I’m missing so much! I’m not just missing my hairdresser, I’m also missing visiting my Mum, I’m missing my favourite curry house…I’m missing all the normal stuff of daily life. I’m sick of all the meetings I have through the two-dimensionality of a computer screen. It’s driving me bonkers. All of which makes the [Acts] reading that we hear today on the feast of St Peter and St Paul an especially appropriate one, it’s a lockdown reading. Peter is the person in lockdown here, you see King Herod has ordered a persecution of the Christians, perhaps the first persecution of the church. St James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem has been executed and then they go for Peter, he’s locked up in prison. But while Peter’s locked up the church prays, and so of course God answers their prayer, He sends an angel, that angel breaks down the doors of the prison, smashes the chains off Peter’s wrists, and Peter realises he’s been set free. Lockdown is over for him! What’s interesting is that Peter at once realises that this freedom that he finds is more than just literal, it’s more than just getting out of the prison cell. He says “now I am sure that the Lord has sent His angel to rescue me”. Peter, you see, comes to a fresh realisation of the work that God is doing in his life, and so this story of Peter being set free points much deeper, it’s not just a little bit of history, it’s a sign of the work of Jesus in Peter’s life. Remember how Peter was when Jesus met him. He was a fisherman in a dead-end town. He didn’t know what to believe. He didn’t know who he was. His life was going nowhere. And even once he followed Jesus he was the one who argued, he was the one who was called Satan at one point, he was the one who denied Jesus, he made so many mistakes, and yet through a relationship with Jesus Peter was unlocked. He came to realise his true potential, he came to see his true dignity as a child of God, and because he was locked he could proclaim the freedom we find in Jesus to others, work that he did for the rest of his life as the Apostle to the Jews. And on this feast of St Peter and Paul we see that the story of Peter being unlocked can point us also to St Paul’s life. Remember Paul who was the persecutor of the Christians? He travelled round the world in-prisoning, executing the early church, and then the dazzling light on the road to Damascus, and Paul’s life was changed. He too found the true freedom of the children of God, and because Jesus unlocked him, he could too go to proclaim freedom to others, which he did as the Apostle to the Gentiles. St Peter and St Paul then both demonstrate that Jesus has the power to unlock us, and when we’re unlocked by Him, then we’re sent to proclaim His freedom to others.
Now, as I said, it’s great news that various lockdown measures have been relaxed. It’s good news that we might soon be able to return to our churches to worship again, but actually for many people even when we can return to our lives as they were they’ll still be in lockdown. You see, a lockdown is about more than doors and buildings. Many people are locked down by sin, or by guilt, or by memories of the mistakes of the past, many are locked-down by disbelief, by real struggle to find a sense of purpose or direction in their lives. Some people are locked-down by greed, by the belief that it is the material, that it is possessions that will set us free, that we are defined by what we have. Some people are locked down by their bodies, by sickness or pain. Some people are locked down by memories of the past, by abuse, by neglect, by the negative expectations of others. There’s many more things that lock us down than padlocks and doors and chains. Maybe as you [read] this today maybe you feel locked down, maybe freedom is something that you long for. Well if you feel locked down, don’t forget the church is praying for you, just as the church prayed for St Peter when he was locked down in prison, so the church is praying for you, and if you look up, if you look out, you can see the help that Jesus is sending to set you free. You see in all the world the only thing that can offer us lasting freedom, proper freedom is relationship with Jesus Christ. As Jesus was bound to the cross by the nails he shared in your locked-ness, as Jesus was shut in to the tomb so he entered into your situation of feeling locked down. But then of course the cross was empty, the tomb was empty, Jesus rose again because by entering in to that locked condition Jesus sets us free. By coming to share our bound-ness Jesus can offer us the true freedom of the children of God. We can find freedom in Christ, and as those whom Jesus unlocks, so we’re sent to share that freedom with others, like Peter, like Paul. Jesus can unlock you and send you with a message of freedom. Amen. (from Bishop Philip)