It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. Phil. 1:7
Sometimes we merely skim or even skip over the little introductory parts of Paul’s letters, which can feel a bit like chit-chat, in order to get to the real spiritual meat of what he has to say. But those opening sections contain excellent examples of practical Christian living and encouragement for Christians, too. In this case, we see how a congregation can hold each other in each other’s hearts even when for a time they cannot come together as they would like.
Despite being apart, they remain “mutual partaker of grace.” They share with each other the faith and life God has granted to each one of them. St. Paul identifies a worldly side and a spiritual side to this grace they share. The worldly side of it is St. Paul’s imprisonment, which brings real hardship, deprivation, and, if people let it, shame. The spiritual side is the defense and confirmation of the Gospel, the mission of the Church that goes on no matter what happens.
When this lockdown is long past and people get together maybe year from now, or ten years from now, everyone will have a different remembrance. It might not be an imprisonment strictly speaking, but it is certainly a time of separation and isolation. For some among us, this lockdown has not changed things that much; it has perhaps shifted shopping patterns or affected meals, but for the most part it has been merely an annoyance. For others, it has been absolutely life-changing—jobs lost, major events cancelled, careers redirected, etc. For others it has been terrifying, and will primarily be remembered in terms of hospital rooms and machines and masks. For some, it has been pure grief. For others, perhaps, though they might feel a bit guilty admitting it, this time has been a pleasant respite from the rat-race, a time of togetherness and adventure. We all have a different CoVid-19 story to tell. But when we hold each other in our heart, the personal stories of everyone at St. Paul’s became part of our story. We pray for one another, call one another, help one another, and laugh and cry with one another. We remain family despite being apart.
On the spiritual side, we all share a mission at St. Paul’s, and that mission hasn’t changed. We do the same things in different circumstances, but we don’t do any of them alone. We’re all still committed to shining the light of the Gospel wherever we go, with the oil in our lamps that God gives us through His Word and Sacraments at St. Paul’s. And when this all ends and things open up, we’ll still be committed to that same mission when the circumstances change again, whether things back to the way things were before in your story or whether they move on to something very different as a result of all this.
St. Paul’s imprisonment became part of the whole story of the Christian Church. None of us can expect our own time of “imprisonment” to change the world. But it can change someone’s world. When you hold God’s people in your heart even as you live your own unique story, God works through you in ways you don’t even know. This time is not wasted. God is at work. Hold us in your heart as you shine the light of God’s love in whatever “prison” (hopefully your house is nicer than a prison!) you are living today.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
In Him, Pastor Speckhard
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana