In the Gospel Reading, Christ tells Peter that the rock on which he will found his church is exactly, Peter. The gates of hell will not prevail against him or against the church which is built on this rock. This seems a deeply comforting thought.
The problem is that it so often looks as if the gates of hell have prevailed against Christ’s church. The problem actually begins with Peter. The apostle who is the rock of the Church betrayed the Lord he loved in Jesus’ worst need. A betrayal like that seems to have something hellish about it, doesn’t it?
In fact, wasn’t Peter’s betrayal of Christ just like the betrayal of Judas? But the Gospels say that Satan entered into Judas before Judas betrayed Christ (John 13:27). There is something hellish about the betrayal of Judas, then. Why not think that the gates of hell prevailed against Peter too?
What is left of that deeply comforting thought about Christ’s Church and the rock that it is founded on being safe from Hell?
But there is a difference between Judas and Peter. It is not that Peter repented and Judas didn’t. The Gospels say that Judas repented, too (Matthew 27:3). Rather, the difference is this. When Judas saw the sin of his betrayal for what it was, he killed himself. He threw himself away as irredeemable. Peter came back to Christ. He cleaved to the Lord he loved even in the face of his own brokenness.
And that is why Peter is the rock on which the Church is founded. The Church is not a collection of the sinless, and it was not meant to be. The Church was founded on Peter, who loved, and sinned, and held on to the Lord anyway.
The gates of Hell cannot prevail against this kind of love. This is a deeply comforting thought.