I want to go back to 7 March and remember Perpetua. I strongly suggest that you read all of Hebrews 10: 32 – 39. It was so fitting for Perpetua and also for us today as we profess our own faith, whatever it might be; and as we witness the horror that Ukraine is going through.
Readings for Perpetua, March 7:
Psalm 124; Hebrews 10:32 to 39; Matthew 24:9 to 14:
“But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” (Hebrews 10:32-32)
We remember Perpetua, who with Felicity her former slave but later her sister in Christ and others, who were slaughtered in an arena in Carthage, North Africa, on 7 March 202. There are many details in her story but there are three pieces that I want to share with you in this pondering.
First, she was the 22 year old mother of an infant and hoping to be baptized soon. She already assumed the title Christian which is why she was on the death row of her day. Even with her old grey haired father coming to her in her prison and on his knees begging her to just say she was not a Christian, she would not deny being a follower of Jesus. How many of us would do that?
Second, in the account of her torture and death she handed off her journal to a person who continued to record her ordeal. This is how we have it today. It is thought by many that this person was Tertullian, Christian Theologian and writer. My fascination here is that Perpetua had the forethought to ensure her story was told even when she knew she would not be able to tell it. How many of us today would do that?
Third and last, as Perpetua and Felicity were being slaughtered, and after Perpetua had already been injured and thrown by what she called a wild cow and having her clothing ripped away, she quickly gather herself together and then attended to Felicity, comforting her and telling her to maintain her dignity “even if we are attacked by that wild cow or whatever it is.” I can imagine the look on Felicity’s face realizing that Perpetua is forgetting that they had already been attacked. Further, Perpetua’s attention to decency and comfort to Felicity quieted the jeering crowd. They wanted to see her screaming and running for their lives. What they saw was a woman who stared down her oncoming slaughter. I can imagine her thoughts being that she might be killed but she will not be entertaining. Finally, when they were ordered to be killed by the sword, a bumbling young soldier could only kill Perpetua with her own hand guiding him. How many of us could do that? This 22 year old young mother is one of my most favorite heroes. She chose Jesus over family; she told her Christian story and passed it on to be told for future generations; and she respected the dignity of all human beings including her own. How many of us can do that?
Her story reminds me of President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who maintains the dignity of the Ukrainian people and letting world news organizations finish telling the Ukraine story. God bless President Zelenskyy who does not shrink back, and for all Ukrainian people. I continue to pray for God to intervene. Can you do that? Will you do that?
As we listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, let us live to love, to serve, and to teach, while pondering anew what the Almighty can do. John