Two years ago, in Easter week, a Catholic priest was driving home, late at night, from the North of Italy where his sister lives, to Rome where he lives and works. He flicked through the radio, looking for diversion, anything to help the monotonous driving hours to pass. The tuner paused at BBC Radio 4 and he heard some words that intrigued him, some sort of dramatisation of the story of Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus.
Arriving home, he went onto the BBC website and downloaded the whole drama, 75 minutes in all. He took it in to his students (Salvatore is not a parish priest, he’s a teaching Professor in both a secular school and within the church) and they listened to it together, following up with a lively discussion. Something in the story of Judas seemed to grab everyone who heard it and so he wrote to me asking if he could have a copy of the scripts. People don’t usually want the words, just the experience, so I was delighted! Salvatore translated it into Italian and his students ‘performed’ the first act for his church. Now he’s translating the whole 75 minutes and hoping to enact it, as if on the radio, to his church next Easter, and to offer it to other churches in Rome. We are sending him some music from the original broadcast and he’s adding sound fx. It all sounds very exciting.
Last week I sat opposite Salvatore in a restaurant in Cardiff and we talked and talked and talked. For 5 hours I don’t think we drew breath. I’ve just started re-reading Jeremiah and had decided that I needed a LOT of help to understand it so I’d bought a Wiersbe Commentary and made a start on it. About two minutes after we met, knowing he was writing a thesis, I asked what the topic was…. Jeremiah! He even has a book on Jeremiah being published next year, translated into German and English (I can’t wait!) Then we wandered over to Isaiah (a fascination for both of us) and of course, Judas, then Simon of Cyrene, and Mary…. and the Book of Acts, and always pre-eminent, and always over it all, Jesus. It was an amazing day.
I drove him out to Penarth to see the pier but in the pouring rain we ended up in Barry, a bit lost, and stuck in traffic … we barely noticed. His passion is so contagious, his enthusiasm and delight in discovery, his intellectual generosity. This clever, academic, accomplished man has four books already under his belt, but most of all, most of all, absolutely most of ALL, he’s in love with God, serving God. He’s laid his life down, he’s driven by devotion and whole hearted commitment, and his scholarship feeds the love, rather than replaces it. It was just amazing to see how different we are, a youngish Catholic, and an oldish Baptist, different genders, different cultures and nationalities, different languages…. and yet united. In communion. No problems. Passing strange! Wonderful. I see why his students love him and queue up to be a part of his projects.
I thought of Salvatore again this morning, as we worshipped here in West Wales. I thought of all the people in Christ who I love but who are away from us right now, I thought of a young couple who have just left to return to Canada, of another couple who are taking a break in Bath (I hope enjoying this sunshine among the honeyed stone), of friends in South Africa, of two church youngsters exploring Finland…. then of friends who are heading off to the US for a couple of weeks….. and I realised that in Christ there is no such thing as distance.
Does that sound fey and prosaic? I mean it. There is no separation, not from Christ and not in Christ either.
God is in all and over all. With Him there is no separation, no time and no distance. We are in eternity together and eternity holds us tight in mutual love and respect and joy.
God is great, He binds us together in a love we don’t even begin to understand. We’re just so grateful for it.
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”