Perhaps it is all the wonderful readings in Advent, but something keeps drawing me back to the time of those early Christians. How amazing it must have been to have those close-in memories of the time of Christ.
Being a Christian in those times was a risky business. You literally endangered your life by following Christ, with dire consequences for those who did not swear to the divinity of the Emperor. Even being called a “Christian” was a derogatory term, created by the Romans to describe the increasing population of “rebels” who were the followers of Christ.
So, fast forward two thousand years and let’s review the differences. Are there places in the world where it is still dangerous to your health to be a Christian? Are we able and willing to be identified as a Christian, not just in name, but in what we do?
As we look at ourselves today we perhaps don’t want to be identified as rebels; as outliers from mainstream thinking or society. We may not be asked to make the sacrifices of the early Christians such as Perpetua, but there is much to be learned from their example of faith.
Each day we are in a world where we are called to face the lions, even if they are small ones, often disguised in decisions, recommendations and responses. Mostly they are the ones we are uncomfortable with; calling out injustice, giving in silence, praying for someone we dislike.
All these are things of Advent of course, but to me, those early Christians were always trying to practice that readiness which was Advent; as they were expecting the Second Coming any moment. It was a time of always Advent in their minds.
They wanted to be as ready as they could to see the Face of God.
Wanting for nothing, wrapped in gilded privilege,
Perpetua, which means lasting, “had it all”.
She, along with slaves in her household were part a group derogatorily called “Christians” by the ruling Roman Empire.
Other gods were permitted, but only by swearing allegiance to the divinity of the Emperor, which was too much for her.
Despite her father’s pleadings, she did not recant,
Along with her slave Felicity, and others from the household,
They were fed to the hungry animals in the Colosseum,
Separated from her nursing infant, her execution was assured, dying finally by a guided sword.
Faith so strong as this can only be known, not just felt.
For the willingness to die, painfully, to enter another kingdom, and leave all your loved ones is not a small one.
Thousands of onlookers saw this faith, and the personal witness and sacrifice, with wonder and bewilderment.
For how can such a huge decision be made with such certitude?
The question we all ask since.
A lasting question … for her memory remains.
Perpetua helps her nervous executioner at the end