It was a sunny day in May when I went to prison. Everything was a non-descript beige. Razor wire covered every outside wall. I went through three sets of locking, loud, thick doors. As each door closed, I felt a deeper sense of anxiety deep in my belly. And I was only there to visit. I couldn’t imagine how it might feel to not be able to leave. I knew that I was leaving in a few hours; the women in this prison couldn’t leave by their own choice. As I listened to the women talk about the struggles of being behind bars; missing their children, their husbands, their families, losing everything that was important to them, again I felt a deep sense of anxiety deep inside. How challenging it would be to not lose hope. How easy it might be to fall into despair and hopelessness.
As the evening went on and I heard a little more from these women, I heard something else. In this circle of women, who were gathered to share in a bible study, I heard about Hope. I heard women who, in one moment cried over their missing their children, and in the next proceeded to share a deep hope they had found outside themselves. These women had found hope in a Savior. Hope in a loving and caring Father who walked with them down the non-descript beige halls. They spoke of scripture that comforted them, reminded them that they have dignity, value and, yes, purpose – even behind prison walls.
Today’s readings celebrate Peter and Paul, two men who spent a lot of time in prison. Paul talks about being literally chained to the floor. Peter, scripture tells us, was being guarded so closely a guard slept on either side of him. It may have been easy for them to fall into despair and hopelessness. But they didn’t. Paul says “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength”. Peter says “the Lord sent His angel and rescued me”. They lived in hope, hope that there was a God bigger than them. Bigger than prison walls, prison chains, guards all around them. Hope that their God SAW them.
We all can live in prisons, physical or otherwise. We can be trapped in the prisons of fear, anxiety, unforgiveness or addictions. But there is a God who SEES us! Sees our hearts and longs to bring comfort and healing and restoration to us. A God who longs to be our strength when we feel we have no strength on our own. Peter and Paul are two men who got that. And, even when chained the floor, knew that God was with them and saw them where they were. And their stories can be a comfort to us when we are feeling alone and imprisoned. I’m pretty sure that the women I met that night in prison found great comfort in the fact that there are many stories of good and holy people being imprisoned. Joseph spent years in prison for something he did not do. Yet God was his comfort and strength and used it to bring something good. Paul and Peter’s stories, still today, bring comfort and hope to those most lost.
May we too be reminded of hope and strength through these scriptures as we hear them proclaimed!