Okay, I’ve overdone the alliteration. Sorry about that. My only regret is that I couldn’t find a fitting noun beginning with ‘O’. Sigh…
But there’s a reason for the overdone opulence of the title. I was reading Acts 2 this morning, and was struck anew by the outright transformation in the lives of the disciples; a change begun at their realisation that Jesus really was alive and confirmed in their experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This transformation in the lives of a raggedy band of largely uneducated people was to have far reaching effects which would stream through history.
So the day before the start of Lent, I’m going for an Easter post. Because why not?
The Graeco-Roman world created a dangerous culture to go and be countercultural in. There were ways of doing things, rules in place, systems of class rigorously imposed. Women were lesser, slaves were property, baby girls were left exposed on rubbish dumps because they were not baby boys. If a woman lost her husband – to divorce or death – she most often became destitute, a figure of pity. In cities like Carthage and Rome, widows were often to be found cast out on the streets with nothing, starving and sick, desperate for any kindness.
It was just the way things were.
But those first Christians didn’t think ‘the way things are’ was any excuse for leaving them that way. They knew that God required more of them, and so they went and changed the world. Their groups gathered together in crumbling tenement blocks and large, sumptuous homes alike, and they threw themselves all in for the life Jesus modelled to them. No lip service was paid to their Master’s words, only decisive, transformative action. They ‘sold all their possessions and goods’ (Acts 2:45). They met together and shared a meal (not just a dry wafer that tastes like stale cardboard washed down by a sip of watered-down wine, sorry CofE), they opened this meal to all the widows and orphans, to the poor and the sick, to the dregs of society. The people the religious leaders definitely didn’t like hanging with. They actually did the stuff, the stuff of the gospel story, and so they grew.
They spread throughout the empire at an astonishing and unprecedented rate. They’d caught on fire and now they were spreading it far and wide, leaving chaos and lives revolutionized in their wake. They turned the prevailing narrative of the culture on its head by feeding those destitute women and rescuing those baby girls from the dump, bringing them up in their family of Jesus-followers, bestowing value on them in a world which saw them as so much more rubbish. They visited the poor elderly with food and clothing. When plague struck Rome, people fled the city, leaving sufferers dying in agony in the stinking streets. These groups of first century followers stayed put, ministering to the sick and dying, demonstrating God’s heart of love and justice.
It was an Outstanding Outbreak of Outrageous and Overwhelming Love.
And so it spread more. It spread among the dregs, among those who were forgotten and abandoned by the rest, among the hated and the oppressed. It spread among those who thought they had no use to anyone, those who’d given up, those who had nothing. And it continues to spread today, speeding like wildfire through the lost and the lonely, the hurting and the suffering, the forgotten and the abandoned. Because it’s an upside down gospel. It’s a story of unconditional, infinite love, love that breaks borders and crashes through barriers, love that plunges us into utter freedom.
Today, in western society we shudder at the thought of the way things once were in that long-ago civilisation. And yet we still say ‘that’s just the way things are.’ We still say that about the poor and about the oppressed, because it’s easier to say that than to do something about it. It’s easier to sit in our comfort and block out the scenes on the TV. It’s just the way things are.
But a small group of battered and bewildered followers of the incarnate and resurrected God said that no, it doesn’t have to be.
And they changed the world.'It's the way things are.' But a small group of battered and bewildered followers of the incarnate and resurrected God said that no, it doesn't have to be… Click To Tweet