-Abundance of grace-
Abundance is my word for 2018. In the 40 days between Christ’s resurrection and ascension I plan to explore this theme in church history. When I searched for the term in the Apostolic Fathers (the early writings of the Christian church), I came across this piece in which we see God pour out and “abundance of grace” on a young woman about to die for her faith.
Vibia Perpetua, was executed in the arena in Carthage on 7 March 203. The account of her martyrdom, technically a passion, has special interest as much of it was written [sections 3-10] by Perpetua herself before her death. This makes it one of the earliest pieces of writing by a Christian woman. We explore three sections below. It’s a treasure for those willing to read it.
Section  reveals that the Christian community had deep knowledge of the Scriptures and shows that they retold stories to glorify God and strengthen one another. Section  provides background about Perpetua and others enduring persecution. Section  gives the account of the vision Perpetua saw in her words. I conclude with brief comments and a prayer.
“ If ancient examples of faith kept, both testifying the grace of God and working the edification of man, have to this end been set in writing, that by their reading as though by the showing of the deeds again, God may be glorified and man strengthened; why should not new witnesses also be so set forth which likewise serve either end? Yea, for these things also shall at some time be ancient and necessary to our sons, though in their own present time (through some reverence of antiquity presumed) they are made of but slight account.
But let those take heed who judge the one power of the Holy Spirit according to the succession of times; whereas those things which are later ought for their very lateness to be thought the more eminent, according to the abundance of grace appointed for the last periods of time. For In the last days, says the Lord, I will pour my spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and daughters shall prophesy; and upon my servants and upon my handmaids I will pour forth of my spirit; and the young men shall see visions, and the old men shall dream dreams. [Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28]  There were apprehended the young catechumens, Revocatus and Felicity his fellow servant, Saturninus and Secundulus. With them also was Vibia Perpetua, nobly born, reared in a liberal manner, wedded honorably; having a father and mother and two brothers, one of them a catechumen likewise, and a son, a child at the breast; and she herself was about twenty-two years of age. What follows here shall she tell herself; the whole order of her martyrdom as she left it written with her own hand and in her own words.
 Then said my brother to me: Lady my sister, you are now in high honor, even such that you might ask for a vision; and it should be shown you whether this be a passion or else a deliverance. And I, as knowing that I conversed with the Lord, for Whose sake I had suffered such things, did promise him nothing doubting; and I said: Tomorrow I will tell you. And I asked, and this was shown me.
I beheld a ladder of bronze, marvelously great, reaching up to heaven; and it was narrow, so that not more than one might go up at one time. And in the sides of the ladder were planted all manner of things of iron. There were swords there, spears, hooks, and knives; so that if any that went up took not good heed or looked not upward, he would be torn and his flesh cling to the iron. And there was right at the ladder’s foot a serpent lying, marvelously great, which lay in wait for those that would go up, and frightened them that they might not go up. Now Saturus went up first (who afterwards had of his own free will given up himself for our sakes, because it was he who had edified us; and when we were taken he had not been there).
And he came to the ladder’s head; and he turned and said: Perpetua, I await you; but see that serpent bite you not. And I said: it shall not hurt me, in the name of Jesus Christ. And from beneath the ladder, as though it feared me, it softly put forth its head; and as though I trod on the first step I trod on its head. And I went up, and I saw a very great space of garden, and in the midst a man sitting, white-headed, in shepherd’s clothing, tall milking his sheep; and standing around in white were many thousands. And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome, child. And he cried to me, and from the curd he had from the milk he gave me as it were a morsel; and I took it with joined hands and ate it up; and all that stood around said, Amen. And at the sound of that word I awoke, yet eating I know not what of sweet.
And at once I told my brother, and we knew it should be a passion; and we began to have no hope any longer in this world.”
Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas (c. 203) translated by W.H. Shewring (London: 1931).
In modern terms, we might say Vibia Perpetua had everything going for her. Notice that section  states she was “nobly born, reared in a liberal manner, wedded honorably.” When you read “liberal,” think “generous.” She appears to have grown up in a Christian family, with a mother and father in her life and two brothers. She was married and had a child of her own.
But Perpetua had one thing worth more than all the world could offer, which she prized above even her family. She had deep faith in Jesus Christ. She numbered among the “catechumens,” which means she was studying the Christian faith more deeply to champion it for the next generation. The Romans targeted such people to try to stop the Christian movement.
Why cite this for the first meditation after Resurrection Sunday?
After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, may believed and suffered for it. Thankfully, we serve a generous God who gave an “abundance of grace” to the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith. He even allowed them to see visions to give them courage to exchange earthly hope for a heavenly home. The condition persists today in various parts of the world.
Wherever you live, if you are reading this piece, one of the oldest extant writing by a Christian woman, my prayer for you today is that God grants you an “abundance of grace” so that you may live out your Christian faith with all boldness with eyes fixed on Jesus so that you fear nothing, including death, and so that your generosity holds nothing back!
kurios M firstname.lastname@example.org
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