Last week, I had the privilege to gather with the other 200-plus Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Massachusetts who attended our annual conference. We heard from Andrew McGowan, the dean of my former seminary, Berkeley at Yale Divinity School. He spoke about his research into the early church and how it shapes our prayer book and worship. Among other things, the early church developed its common life and practice in the face of persecution from the state. Simply to be a Christian was to be a radical, to resist the power of the dominant narrative of commerce and oppression.
We read one of the many stories from the Book of Acts that records Paul's adventures as he started that church. He gets annoyed with a woman who is traveling with them, gets in trouble with the gentry and the police, and gets beaten and thrown in jail, where he witnesses to his faith--which causes an earthquake. All in a day's work.
To be a Christian in Paul's time at the dawn of the church had one major requirement: You had to know what the Gospel meant. Not in a purely intellectual or propositional way. Not even in a strictly theological way. In a deep and real experiential way, you had to know why you would die for this Gospel, this Jesus. You had to know that belief in the power of love and light might be shown forth by walking right into violence and darkness with your head held high. The power of these early Christians to know Jesus is what allowed others to see it and allowed the whole movement to roll through the centuries to us today.
These things have made me rethink my own current political anxiety. They have made me remember that the story of the United States presidential election is not the biggest story in the universe. And that, no matter what kinds of missteps we could make as a nation, no matter how gruesome, the story of God's love is always bigger. I am not afraid of any coming darkness, because I know that our God is with us always, to the end of the age. And that our prayers bear witness to that fact, and to the courage of our forebears through the ages witnesses to that fact. I do not wish for storms, but I am reminded by those wild early church folk that we can weather them--with God's help.
--The Rev. Rita Powell is associate rector for worship at Trinity Church in Boston. This reflection first appeared in the May 5, 2016, "Trinity Community Update" and is republished here with permission.
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