When my granddaughter Ava was learning to talk, she would toddle over to me and hold out her arms and say “Hold You Me.”
“What?” I thought.
And then it hit me. I needed to fill in her still-evolving grammar. “Will you hold me?”
Then I reached out my arms and scooped her up and embraced her and we snuggled up on the sofa. But who was holding who? “Hold you me.”
In the Bible, the apostle Paul writes to his dear friends in the town of Philippi saying, “you hold me in your heart.” (Philippians 1:3) He is capturing that same sentiment – mutual friendship, love, affection. Who is holding who? Paul embracing his followers or the new Christians reaching out to love their teacher. The truth was that they both experienced the joy of being together and feeling safe in the arms of one another and it was more than human love, in one another, they sensed God’s holy love.
But when Paul finished writing the letter he rolled it up and passed the scroll through the bars of a prison cell where he was held on capital charges. Clearly, life was not what Paul hoped it would be. His mission had been interrupted as he was incarcerated by the Roman government and charged with a capital offense. God’s mission of love and grace appeared to be trapped and maybe even forever thwarted. Paul, who wrote much of the Christian Bible was along the way beaten, flogged, chained in stocks, shipwrecked and often ill. A letter filled with gripes and despair was in order. And yet he writes a letter of joy, gratitude, and hope to his friends in Philippi.
Most of us have not been imprisoned for our faithfulness to God. But all of us have experienced a thwarted mission. Life does not go as planned. The world disappoints us and robs us of our dreams. Paul sees beyond the present moment. He writes as though he is in prison, but the good news of God is not. The love that binds them cannot be interrupted. Because of this community of faith, believers in Christ, still barely toddlers in their faith, it is possible for God’s love to overflow more and more. Christ is alive in them. They are held by the love of God. Paul should have felt trapped by the stench of prison but instead, he felt empowered knowing that the people in the church who loved him were still holding on to him.
Though I cannot fathom Paul’s life, I do know that on my worst days, you hold me. The love of Christ rises up within your hearts and empowers us as a community of faith to share the love of Christ.
Grace and Peace,