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The week that I went down with Covid I was supposed to be preaching on the following Sunday at our church. In the event of course I had to stand down and another retired vicar took my place.

It was not an easy passage on which I was to preach: Philippians 2.19-30. Paul is writing from prison in Rome. In these verses he takes a break from teaching and exhortation to talk about some personal details. I had some idea of what I might say, but in the end found myself living it out myself, in a minor way.

Paul is in custody, not in prison as such, but living in some sort of rented accommodation in Rome, awaiting trial, shackled to a guard day and night; people could come in and visit him, but he could not go out. It must have been the church in Rome that was supporting him with food and rent, for the State in those days did not think it part if its responsibility to feed prisoners in custody. Help had also arrived in the form of Epaphroditus, a representative of the church in Philippi, a church which Paul had founded some 13 or14 years before during his Second Missionary Journey. Epaphroditus had brought, not just the church’s good wishes, but also a gift of money to help support Paul. Somewhere along the line this Epaphroditus had been taken seriously ill, from which he was now recovering. He had brought news and greetings from the church in Philippi, to which Paul was now responding in this Letter.

Paul also had with him his helper of many years, Timothy. Timothy too he had known for some 13 or 14 years, since he had baptised him in Lystra and co-opted him there to be his helper. Timothy was a generation younger than Paul, who often referred to him as ‘my son Timothy.’ From that beginning Timothy had become Paul’s most faithful and reliable ‘gofer’, and he continued to run errands and to represent Paul, up until Pauls’ death.

Now, Paul was about to send, first, Epaphroditus back to Philippi with the letter that he was writing to the church at that moment; then to send Timothy to find out how the letter had been received, and in both cases to take the news of Paul’s circumstances and fortunes.

I had been going to say in my sermon that it was a great blessing for Paul, first to have Timothy, who was there by his side to carry messages and run errands for him, and secondly to have received the visit of Epaphroditus, representing one of the churches that he had founded and loved. I never got to say all that, but I did get to experience it.

As I had been missing at church myself the word went round the congregation that I and my wife had Covid. In the next few days we had several offers of help: “Can we get you anything from the shops?” A couple nearby did go to the supermarket for us to get our weekly shopping and deliver it to our door. Other people, unable of course to visit us in person, telephoned to ask how we were and to commiserate with us. Seemingly little things, but they were such an encouragement to us to know that help was at hand, and that people loved us and missed us.

All this, the outcome of a mild infection and ten days of isolation. But it reminded me how important these little things can be when people we know are in trouble and, perhaps, confined to their homes. It may be family or friends, neighbours, or fellow Christians. As far as the church goes, it is a measure of the love for one another that we have as members of the Body of Christ: how much we care for one another at times like this, even in the most ordinary ways. Would that all churches were as loving as that to which we ourselves have the joy to belong!


Next week, “I told you so.”

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