(5th in a series for National Bible Week. Reflection on Acts 12:4-19)
I’ll never forget 9/11. I drove to New Jersey to see my aunt, cheerfully oblivious to what was going on in New York. When I arrived, I found her whole family gathered at her house, glued to the TV. Together we watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. My cousin was near the twin towers and no one could reach her, so our very specific fear for her safety added to the overall horror of the situation.
I soon realized that I couldn’t stay. Highways were being closed and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back to Pennsylvania and the children. We knelt together, holding hands and praying with all our strength: God, have mercy on us all!
My cousin eventually made it home safely, although the things she saw are the stuff of nightmares, and I got home too. My husband and I quickly gathered the children. Instinctively we went to the church, to pray with others. It seemed important to join with not only our biological family, but also our spiritual family, in prayer.
That’s not the only time we’ve felt the strength of a community gathered in prayer. Many times before that and since, we’ve gathered to pray . . . for someone with cancer . . . for a child lost to addiction . . . for a couple who lost their business. A need is felt and the alert goes out, and prayers go up all over the parish. And the list of answered prayers and miracles is growing.
The book of Acts tells of the time Peter was thrown into prison by Herod. The king had already executed James, the brother of John, and was thinking of doing away with this Christian leader as well. So Peter was under maximum security, bound in chains and guarded at all times by four soldiers: one on each side of him and two by the door. His outlook was dire, “but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf” (Acts 12:5).
That one little word, but, is so important! The situation seemed impossible—but the Church prayed fervently and God answered. An angel came in the night and broke Peter out of jail. St. Luke describes it using words that recall the story of the Exodus: Peter is freed from bondage by an angel on the night of Passover, after dressing and putting on sandals (see Exodus 12 and 14 for the connections). What God did back then to rescue his people from a seemingly impossible situation, he did for Peter in the first century—and he continues to do for his people today. God is a God who answers prayer and delivers us!
“The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful,” wrote St. James to Christians around the world (James 5:16). Perhaps he was thinking of this occasion, when the church “fervently” prayed for the impossible. And yet, when Peter knocked at the gate of one house where Christians were praying, they didn’t believe it. The maid was so shocked, she ran back inside without opening the gate. “You are out of your mind,” the others told her, as Peter kept knocking.
It’s wonderful to know that God answered their “impossible” prayer even though they may not have expected him to. God wants us to take part in his work—but his effectiveness is not bound by ours.
Find your story in God’s story. Read about Peter’s release from prison, hearing it as God’s word spoken to you. Ponder what he says; reflect on how it speaks to your life; respond in prayer; rest in his love.
© 2015 Sarah Christmyer. This post was previously published as a reflection on EntertheStoryNow.com under the title, “Has Your Family Prayed for the Impossible?”
Heavenly Father, most of the time we only ask you for small things. But sometimes we need something huge, something impossible. Give us the desire and ability to pray with persistence. Wake us up to see when you are acting! Take off the chains that hold us and help us walk in obedience to your leading. Help us to expect great things because you love us and you are greater than any sovereign, sentry, system, or circumstance. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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Look for these daily posts during National Bible Week, November 16-20 (links will be active after they post):
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR THE FAMILY (Series introduction and reflection on Esther)
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR FAMILIES caught in a storm (Reflection on Matthew 14:22-23)
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR FAMILIES who have been delivered – or who need a miracle! (Reflection on Exodus 14:29-30; 15:1-2, 19-21)
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR FAMILIES who are asking, “Now what?” (Reflection on Luke 1:26-38)
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR FAMILIES who pray for the impossible (Reflection on Acts 12:4-19)
- THE BIBLE: A BOOK FOR FAMILIES that are broken (Reflection on Luke 15:11-32)
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Download these resources from the Catholic Ministries of the American Bible Society, prepared for the World Meeting of Families. Discussion Guides relate to the Scripture in this blog post:
- Family Discussion Guide
- Parish Discussion Guide
- Gospel of Luke 22-day “Journey” – Family Lectio Divina