Reading

They were all crammed in Lydia's courtyard, more than 50 at the least, for the news had spread that Epaphroditus had returned with words from Paul, and everyone was eager to hear from them both.

"We were worried greatly about you Epaphroditus," Lydia rubbed the hands of the young man which showed the wear of the travel, "First we heard you fell terribly ill, at your death bed, then we heard you were back to your feet and praise God for that, for I would have carried a heavy guilt to my death bed for having sent you on a perilous trip."

Epaphroditus smiled. He lost a few pounds, but he was healthy again, physically weaker but spiritually stronger. He could still feel Paul's hands on his forehead, small but full of heat, blessing him as he left Paul in Rome with his letter in his sack. "Paul was terribly worried too. He nursed me back. Could you believe it? I went to tend to old Paul, alone in prison, to care for him, and it was the old man who had to wipe sweat off my forehead. But our Master had mercy on us all. I got my life back -- I thought it was the end of me, Paul was spared sorrow, I and most important, I have his letter." He took it out of his sack and handed it over to Lydia. Several times he almost lost his life to marauders for the letter. They all thought he was stashing gold in his sack, they way he clutched it, and when they ransacked it and found only a plain parchment without any insignia they thought him just a young man smitten with Cupid's arrow carrying some love letter and let him go advising him against the foolishness of giving his life for a woman. But for Epaphroditus, this letter was more precious than his own life.

When Lydia felt the parchment on her hands, she felt she was touching the finest purple linen her hands had ever touched, far more precious than any gold. In it was the words of Paul, her teacher, the one she met at the riverbank, just outside the city, whose teaching were so foreign they sounded like a crazy man's rant, yet she could not tune them out until she found herself begging them to stay at her place. They were Jews. And she had some wealthy Jewish customers and knew enough of their xenophobic laws, like the one prohibiting eating with Gentiles. But there she was, practically begging them to stay at her home, a Gentile's home, and on top of all that a widow. Paul thanked her and was about to go but Lydia was hungry for what he was saying. She simply couldn't wait until the next day. She always got her ways, and she did that day too. And it was here, in this courtyard, under a full moon, she heard the most amazing news about a Galilean who died for her sins and rose from the dead. She got baptized that night. No Roman bath ever made her feel that clean.

"Epaphroditus!"

"Julius!"

"I am glad you are back with us, alive and not a ghost! And how is it with Paul?"

"Paul is great! His spirit is strangely alive!"

"Oh I know that! No prison is going to kill his spirit. That night when I was on guard, him and Silas was singing out their lungs out! First I laughed. I thought they were drunk! Then I got annoyed and was going to kick some sense into them but as I made my way to their cell, I paid attention, to find out what they were singing about. It helps that they can blow but something about the words was calming. Even the usually rowdy prisoners were all silent, listening; it was as if all of us were in the amphitheater listening to some beautiful and haunting song. Then the earthquake. Well, you know the rest. I would have stuck myself with my own sword except Paul comes running to me, holds my  hand."

Julius wiped tears with his sleeve.

"Sorry. Look at me, not manly to lose my composure like this. But every time I tell that story..."

"Daddy!" Lucius, Julius son, not more than seven, ran and grabbed his legs, having explored enough of the courtyard and needing to return to safety.

"Julius, we all owe Paul a lot. His message has all made us followers of our Master. That is why I had to go even at the risk of my own life. I had to tell Paul about what the Spirit is doing in Philippi, and I had to hear from him again. Now I am eager to hear his letter read. "

"You didn't take a peak?"

"I was tempted, but it was to us. I didn't feel right."

"A young man of great self-discipline! You have a bright future."

"Brothers and sisters!" It was Lydia and her alto voice stilled all the conversations milling around the courtyard.

"Thanks to Epaphroditus we have a letter from  Paul." There was a long silence, full of expectancy, as Lydia looked into the eyes of every face. It made everyone in the room look at each other. She noticed how different they were, masters and slaves. And there was Enoch and Gaius, Jew and Gentile, now best of friends. Their community had tensions. But there they were, all eager to hear what Paul had to say.

She unrolled it and she could see Paul, his high forehead, piercing eyes, thin strong frame standing up to speak, even hear his voice as she formed the sound of the letters:

“This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.
I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus,”