This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications and is included here with their permission.
“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22.27b)
Margaret was a faithful member of the congregation for many years. She never took a formal role in the leadership of the church but she was always willing to help with making tea and coffee and welcoming people to services and other church events. She loved arranging flowers for special occasions and could be relied upon to have needle and thread to hand when a button came loose or a seam split in cassock or gown! When she died everyone said how much she would be missed in the life of the church.
But in the days before Margaret’s funeral, as she talked to various people about her, the vicar of the parish discovered hidden truths about Margaret’s life. There was a young man who spoke of how Margaret had helped him with his reading and writing after he left school and then gave him advice and guidance about seeking employment. There was a former choir girl who had moved away from the parish when she got married. Her husband had been abusive and Margaret had offered her home as a refuge for the frightened young wife and soon-to-be mother. There was a family who never forgot how Margaret had cooked meals for them while one of the children was seriously ill in hospital.
And many more stories emerged of how Margaret had quietly served people around her in ways that changed their lives and brought them love and care when they most needed it.
Bartholomew is one of those Apostles whose work in the service of Jesus, his risen Lord, is known only to God. Matthew, Mark and Luke all name him as one of the twelve disciples called by Jesus to follow him and he is also named in the Book of Acts but he is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. There is some suggestion that Bartholomew may have been the same person as Nathaneal who, John tells us, was brought to Jesus by Philip but we have no way of knowing if that is true.
What we do know for certain about Bartholomew is that he shared with the other disciples the experience of following Jesus throughout his ministry. He must have witnessed all that Jesus did and heard all that Jesus said including during his controversial encounters with religious leaders. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials” says Jesus of Bartholomew and the others just before they all failed him by running away at the time of his greatest trials.
Above all Bartholomew was a witness to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and was therefore able to pass on the Gospel message with the authority of one who has experienced it for himself.
Bartholomew must have heard again and again the teaching of Jesus that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” and he would have witnessed Jesus living out that teaching, “I am among you as one who serves”.
No doubt after the resurrection of Jesus Bartholomew and the other Apostles tried to live following the example of Jesus thus bearing witness to others of his humility and loving service.
We may know very little about Bartholomew as an individual but it’s from him and the other Apostles that we have received our faith in God’s redeeming work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He is one of our fathers in the faith and for that we must surely be grateful.
Like the first believers, Margaret was faithfully devoted “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and she lived out her faith as “one who serves” others. In her Bible was found a well-worn card with the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola written on it.
The prayer was written nearly 1600 years after the life of Bartholomew and over 400 years before our lifetime but perhaps it’s a prayer we can all pray together in a fellowship that extends beyond time and reaches out across differences in culture, breaking down barriers between men and women everywhere who call Jesus their Lord and Saviour.
With Bartholomew, Ignatius, Margaret, and everyone here today, let us pray:
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will” Amen.
Following the example of our Lord Jesus, let us pray to our heavenly Father for the needs of the world and for the church as she seeks to proclaim his Gospel of forgiveness and salvation to all peoples.
We pray for Christians in our world today who suffer hardship and oppression because of their faith. We pray that God will give them the courage and hope they need to remain faithful to the Gospel.
We pray for Christians seeking to bring peace and reconciliation into all places of conflict. We pray that among the leaders of the world and all who hold power and responsibility for the lives of others God’s will may be done.
We pray for Christians who are beset by doubts and feeling separated from God. We pray that God’s light will shine through their sense of aloneness and give them a deep assurance of his steadfast love for them.
We pray for Christians who are struggling in their daily lives because of ill health, anxieties, poverty and other heavy burdens. We pray that God will comfort and heal them and draw them ever closer to himself.
Heavenly Father we thank you that you hear our prayers and that you love us beyond our understanding. Look with compassion and mercy on those for whom we have prayed today. Show us the ways in which we can serve you in the people with whom we live and work and keep us faithful to your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.