Pain radiated through my legs, my chest. I concentrated on forcing each foot forward. The pack on my back had rubbed my shoulders raw long ago, the pain worse for the knowledge that it was not my burden. Only one thing kept me half-way sane--the other item I carried. This one was not a burden, but a treasure; a parchment tucked close to my heart.
Paul had warned me to take the journey slowly. My recent illness seemed unwilling to release its last clutch on my energy. “The letter will not be disvalued by a few more days delay,” he had told me. “‘Twill do no one any good if you drop from exhaustion halfway there.”
Yet I had already covered nearly a normal day’s mileage and still I pushed. I wanted only to get to Philippi; my spirit longed for the refreshment I would find when I arrived. Besides, the brethren would worry about me even more if I didn’t show up soon.
“Give me my bag.” The soldier stopped abruptly. “It’s been a mile.”
Not daring to stop for fear I would be unable to continue, I plodded on, reaching for the strap. Words from long ago drifted into my head and I straightened. “I’ll take it another mile.”
The man laughed. Only when I had marched forward a few more paces did he seem to realize that I was serious. He caught up in a few long strides. “Are you crazy?”
“Just thought it would be a nice thing to do.” My words sounded lame through my wheezy gasps.
His puzzled gaze cleared and was replaced with a roll of the eyes. “Oh, I’ve heard of you people. Part of ‘The Way’, right?” He snorted. “Well, sorry to take gems from your crown, but you’re about to drop flat and I’d like my evening meal in one piece, thanks.”
He ripped the pack from my back and soon disappeared around a corner. For a time I felt light and forgot my pains, but all too soon my weakening legs caught up with me. I collapsed in a meadow on the side of the road without my usual cautions.
When I awoke it was dark and stealthy fingers were reaching into the pack under my head. I yelled and sat up, only to receive a kick in the stomach for my trouble.
The thief vanished into the dark with my pack. I was just grateful he left me alive. I clutched my stomach and felt the rustle of the parchment. Thank God it was still fine. I spent the rest of the night huddled in a miserable ball, trying to stay alert, chastising myself for not staying with a crowd.
The ting of pink on the horizon brought a blessing and a curse. It meant robbers were unlikely, but also meant that I would need to journey on, despite my lack of sleep. My muscles screamed as I clambered to my feet, and my bruised side tightened into a knot.
The day was long.
By the time I reached Philippi my sight was blurred. I wasn’t sure quite how I found myself at Syntyche’s house, but finally they were ushering me in, kissing me, easing me to the floor pillow, and bathing my feet in cool water. I pulled the parchment out with careful fingers, slipping it from the sweaty covering and releasing it into the elder’s hands.
“We’ve been worried about you, Epaphroditus.” Syntyche ran his fingers across the paper. “And with good reason, it seems. Rest now, while I call the brethren together.”
I woke once more that day as eager voices filled the dwelling. The lady of the house smiled upon me. “Would you like to move to a back room where it is more quiet?”
“No, thank you, I wish to hear the reading!” I pushed myself upright, ignoring the swirling of the room.
“There will be chances for that tomorrow. I fear you will fall sick again.”
“Nothing will restore my health faster than fellowshipping with you all.”
One of the young men was called, and I leaned gratefully on his strong arm. We knelt in the back of the gathering room, a room so filled with eagerness and love.
Syntyche smoothed the parchment and began to read, words filling the air with the very presence of God. “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”
Based on Philippians, especially 2:25-30 and last quote taken directly from 1:2-3, KJV.
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