Against First Impressions
Acts 12: 12-17 (NRSVA)
12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind!’ But she insisted that it was so. They said, ‘It is his angel.’ 16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, ‘Tell this to James and to the believers.’ Then he left and went to another place.
Last year, my wife Lily, wrote and performed a monologue Rhoda Reflects on this very passage. As our theme for the month is about communication — and the voice especially this week — I encourage you to take time to listen to the voice that Lily lends Rhoda. It’s always brilliant when people like Lily or Laura Digan invite us into the mindset of biblical character and use their imaginations to engage our imaginations and ‘meet’ these people anew.
Rhoda only appears in these half a dozen verses but this scene of her excitement and exuberance ring down through the ages. Her brief story could be glossed over but we’d lose an invaluable glimpse into what it was like to be in that early church movement.
One of the great things about our Legacy of Hope (that we explored in November) is that we don’t have to rely on our ‘first impressions’ of those we meet in the Bible, as we get to meet them time and again and develop a relationship with them as we grow in faith. We are part of a rich living tradition with ancient texts we can continually rediscover. That’s one of the reasons the Bible isn’t a manual to read cover to cover once and then leave on a shelf. It’s something to live with.
For the Bible isn’t simply an object that sits there — it’s an event that happens when we come to these words in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Hearing the Bible read aloud and then responding to it faithfully and creatively in any given moment is an awesome thing. It’s as if the Bible is a solid rock that invites us to walk along its surface, like a craggy beach full of wonder and surprise as we pick our way along. Stop at a sparkling rock pool here where we can meet Rhoda, pick up a pebble with Jesus, see how the sunlight of grace plays on the water.
Dear God in heaven,
Help us to hear you
in manifold ways,
as Rhoda heard Peter.
And remind us too, like Rhoda, to open the door.