It happened again.
I'm in church, minding my own business, paying attention to the readings, and then--WHAM-- a portion of the lesson from Acts grabs me by the shirt collar and makes me sit up and take notice.
When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, "These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.--Acts 16: 20-26
We go on to learn that the jailer, who was so distraught by this freeing act that he was going to kill himself, instead has himself and his family baptized and became believers in "The Way".
The part that caught my attention was this idea that Paul and Silas, who were praying and singing hymns to God as they sat bloodied and in prison, witness the earthquake that was "so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken". And, in that moment as I sat in the pew, it was as if there were a thousand bells ringing. Had my ears just heard what I thought I had heard? Two faithful guys were trapped in a prison. They turned their hearts and minds over to God... and God responds full-force to free them from their bondage. And in that process, makes a new believer out of the very person in charge of keeping them held hostage. The scene reminded me of the Easter hymn:
He is risen, he is risen
Tell it out with joyful voice
He has burst his three days' prison
Let the whole wide earth rejoice:
death is conquered, we are free,
Christ has won the victory.
And while this moment is related as a physical breaking of bondage, I couldn't help but see this as a metaphor for the freeing of one's mind. So many of the "prisons" we find ourselves in are ones of our own making. And as I sat with that thought, along comes the reading of the Luke gospel from Ascension Day... which was last Thursday...
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." --Luke 24: 45-49
Here again--WHAM--"he opened their minds to understand the scriptures". And why? Because he is about to leave them, this time really leave them, and he needs them to be ready to carry on the work which he began, and he can't afford to have them held prisoner to believing that it is not within their ability to go on, and teach others "the way".
This remains true to this day. As we get closer and closer to Pentecost, the time when God appears for Act III as the Holy Spirit, we are (or should be) preparing to take all that we have been given, all that we have been taught, and get out there in the world knowing and living as people of freedom, people who have known, touched and tasted Love, who can offer those things to other people. At its root, this is what the twelve apostles who knew Jesus, and Paul who knew the resurrected Christ, were really doing. They were being the embodiment of "the way". And that embodiment means that their minds and hearts were blown open... and will be filled with "the love and knowledge of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord."
Let's try to live in the same way.