PRAYER AT MARY’S HOUSE
We met in Mary’s house to pray. They were difficult days just after the festival, James – may his soul rest in God – had been run through with a sword.
King Herod had decided that this might be popular with our unbelieving Jewish brothers and sisters and so it proved. We buried him; but Herod’s appetite had been whetted, and on the same day they seized Peter as well. They had no right to do so, they had no cause to tear us apart in this way.
Peter went typically, not without a struggle. And as he was led away he cried out to the soldiers, ‘On what charge do you take me?’ They didn’t reply. And I suppose they didn’t have to. We knew, they knew that there was no charge. Or none that was valid. But the absence of validity hardly stops Herod. No charge was needed, for whom Herod chooses to kill, he kills. And no one dares to demand justification.
So we gathered together. Every night we would gather together. Mary was brave as a hostess. Thirty-five frightened believers, each of us wondering whether it would be his turn next. And we prayed. Oh yes, we prayed. We prayed for ourselves. We prayed for our leaders. We prayed for protection. We even prayed for Peter. But how could you pray for a man who faces certain execution, except by groaning with sadness and confusion, and asking God to save him from denying the Lord as he had done once before.
John Mark, that’s Mary’s son, he was earnest enough. He even prayed for Peter’s release, prayed that he would be returned to us safely. We all said amen. We didn’t believe it.
The night before the trial we met as usual, scared as always. In fact, more so because – who was able to guess what would be the extent of the mob euphoria and of persecution after Peter’s impending death? Would the mood of the authorities swing heavily against us? Would a wave of further arrests overwhelm us? What could we do but pray again?
It was as John Mark was praying that we all heard a loud banging on that outer entrance.
We froze for a moment as a shiver of fear ran through the room. One of the ladies let out an involuntary cry. An old man fell prostrate on the floor and called out to God in his heavenly language. Mary, her eyes wide, flustered and frightened, looked uncertain as to what she should do.
Paralysed as we were with anxiety, no one thought to stop Rhoda the servant girl doing her job. And we heard her footsteps as she approached to answer the door.
`Don’t answer it, girl,’ Mary shouted, as she regained her voice. `See who it is first!’
The room fell quiet, except for the old man still spread-eagled on the floor, rattling away quietly in tongues. We could hear the voices at the entrance but could not make out what was being said. We waited.
Suddenly the servant girl burst in, tripped over the old man, crashed to the floor and looked up at us.
`It is Peter’s voice,’ she said. Someone shrieked, ‘It must be his ghost; the Lord has taken him home already!’
Mary laughed, nervously. `You are mistaken, child.’
‘It is Peter,’ the girl said. `Go and see.’
So we did.
And it was.
Why do we soak our prayers in so much doubt? After all, Jesus had told Peter he would die as an old man, so he’d be around for a while still, thank God! But don’t give up praying, as Paul said in one of his letters: ‘Now all glory to God, who is able through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish INFINITELY MORE than we might ask OR think. Glory to him in the church through all generations forever and ever! Amen!’