Did you know that 51 separate verses in the Bible talk about rocks? (As a child of the '80s and an original Trivial Pursuit fan, I like facts like this.)
We were just talking about rocks during Parish Choir warm-up this past Sunday morning. Growing up Methodist, with a little Baptist on the side, how many years did I sing, “Here I raise my Ebenezer,” not knowing that an Ebenezer was actually a rock. After moving to Memphis 15-plus years ago, I finally sought out Rabbi Micah Greenstein at Temple Israel, and he fully explained to me 1 Samuel 7:12 and exactly what the Ebenezer was.
Rocks are found throughout the Old Testament: "I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples…and all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.” (Zechariah 12:3)
Motivational rocks: "Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that they were engraved in the rock forever!” (Job 19:23-24)
Not-so-good rocks: “His heart is as hard as a stone, even as hard as a lower millstone.” Not good.
Inspirational rocks, from David the Psalmist: “For in the day of trouble he will conceal me in his tabernacle…he will lift me up on a rock” (Psalm 27:5), or “he brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and he set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm.” (Psalm 40:2). Actually, you can find many, many rocks throughout the Psalms.
In the New Testament, rocks were split in two at the death of Jesus on the cross: “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51)
And then there is Peter the Rock, upon whom Jesus built his Church on earth. It is the story of our Gospel reading for this Sunday. Not only did Jesus elevate Peter as head of the Church, Jesus used Peter to identify who he was, the Messiah, the Chosen One, to all the disciples.
When Jesus arrived in Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” After a litany of names, Simon Peter was the one who definitively proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-20)
Look for the rocks in the texts that we will sing this Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone.” (Hymn 518) “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” (LEVAS 99) “God is love, let heaven adore him…God who laid the earth’s foundation.” (Hymn 379)
The Introit for this Sunday, “You are the Christ,” is a setting of a hymn for the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter, which is January 18 each year. This tune was written by Canon Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921-2003), longtime Precentor/Organist/Choirmaster of Washington Cathedral.
The tune is an actual canon or round, and its name Wyngate Canon honors Dirksen’s eldest son, Richard, who lives with his family on Wyngate Drive in Bethesda, Maryland. Wayne Dirksen liked to give his tunes names that were personally meaningful. In fact, we sang one this past Sunday during Communion: Decatur Place was the little street just down Mt. St. Alban from Washington Cathedral where Dirksen and his wife lived.
Later in his career, Dirksen became a Lay Canon of Washington Cathedral. Could the hymn tune name Wyngate Canon have been a divine-intervention word play foreshadowing Canon Dirksen’s own career and ministry?
The text “You are the Christ” was written by William Walsham How (1823-1897), who is probably best known for his popular and monumental hymn text, “For all the saints, who from their labors res.”The hymn is beloved by many at Church of the Holy Communion, including me.
At the Offertory, the Parish Choir will sing perhaps the ancient hymn, the words of which have been set to choral music through the centuries from Palestrina to Faure and even 20th Century composers. Tu es Petrus is the Latin Vulgate Bible translation from the 4th Century and is often sung in liturgies in the presence of the Holy Father of Rome.
Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram
Aedificabo Ecclesiam meam,
Et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam:
Et tibi dabo claves Regni coelorum.
Quodcumque ligaveris super terram,
Erit ligatum et in coelis;
Et quodcumque solveris super terram
Erit solutum et in coelis.
You are Peter, and on this rock
I will build My church,
And the gates of hell will not prevail against it:
And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth
Will be bound also in heaven;
And whatever you release on earth
Will be released also in heaven.