Paul today gives us a glimpse into the connected world of the early Christians. There was no Internet, no cell phones, no Facebook or Twitter – and yet those early Christians were connected! Paul rejoices at the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicos. They made up for the separation and absence of the rest of the community; “they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.” Ἀνέπαυσαν γὰρ τὸ ἐμὸν πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὑμῶν. “The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brethren send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
Today I’m inspired by Paul’s sense of connectedness. And in my own way, I also feel connected. I have become friends with people that I have never met in person – thanks to the Internet, my blog, Facebook. One of my favorite friends on Facebook is a young woman in Greece whose father died here in Portland after several months at Maine Medical Center. Some of you may remember Maria, her mother Eirene and her brother Vasili. Maria writes things on Facebook that go very deep into the human condition. She is alert to things that the rest of us might not pay any attention to, and she allows these incidents to inspire her.
There was a fairly trivial news item last week which I saw on BBC World News, about Big Ben in London losing time. It’s running about 6 seconds slow! Not exactly a world shaking news story, coming in the same week as hundreds of refugees dying in the Mediterranean and in a truck in Austria, the same week as a terror attack in a train in France, more gun killings in America, etc. But my friend Maria was moved by this little story of Big Ben losing time to reflect on her own losing touch with time and other things in her own life. She writes, some people run a few seconds behind time; others are centuries behind the time! Big Ben loses a few swings of its pendulum, while for other people the entire ground under their lives disappears!
We are all united by this noun – “loss” – and its verb. We all lose something, someone, some aspect of our personality, something that makes us unique and remarkable. Life is a series of losses. And yet it is also a series of gains. I have lost much over the years – physical mobility, parents, friends and parishioners, energy – and yet I have gained even more – new friends, new insights and understanding, new talents, new desire to go on, new faith that is my own rather than what I have received, and so on. This is what the connected life is all about. My connected life, your connected life.
Just as my friend Maria is inspired to reflect on the importance of loss in life, so I’m inspired by her words to reflect on my own life. We learn from each other. It’s what it means to be connected. It was physically difficult and yet spiritually easy in the time of Paul to stay connected. Today, it is physically easy to stay in touch and to be connected with the world, and yet spiritually difficult to have a meaningful connection. But the choice is always ours to establish meaningful connections and friendships. The choice is always ours to deepen our understanding of what’s going on in the world, to listen to different viewpoints, and appreciate the artistry and potential of the human spirit.
Just as Maria inspires me every day with her words on Facebook, so also I was inspired by Alex & Byron and their decision to fly to Lesvos and help with the Syrian refugees who daily land with dingy boats on that island. They are inspired by their friendship with a couple on the island and after this trip they will undoubtedly feel connected to the tragic lives of people fleeing war, terrorism and starvation. Through Alex & Byron, we also can feel connected and send a “holy kiss” to desperate people.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss,” Paul tells his readers. We also are his readers. Let’s not stop at greeting only each other. Let’s greet with a holy kiss people we’ve never met and probably never will meet. Through Alex & Byron we can send our love to many lives. We can refresh them, as Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicos refreshed, Ἀνέπαυσαν, Paul. This is how we make these words alive for us and for the world.