Family Links

In each generation, link after link, we are connected by the stories we share.

My mother came to visit recently and brought a gift that surprised me. It was a gold chain, one of the pieces of jewellery she has worn most often. She gave it to me as I was helping her unpack, and at first, I wasn’t sure if she meant it.

The chain sits secure in my childhood memories. I see it on Sundays, looped double around her neck over her paisley dress as she sits beside me in the pew, my own small feet in polished black shoes, swinging. I see it hanging long over her loose summer dress on someone’s birthday, and we’re singing. I see it shine and dance as she moves. Seeing it now, coiled in my hand, I remember how the links felt in my fingers when I used to sit on her lap, the weight of them together, the warmth of the gold.

The chain had belonged to her great uncle, and she told me how he wore it looped over his waistcoat to keep his pocket-watch safe. The links are well-made, solid and strong.

Over the course of her visit, we told stories and remembered many past days together. That’s another kind of strong link, and we felt lucky.

A family church

At church, we’ve been reading through Matthew and thinking about the earliest days of the church, which is another kind of family story telling. Matthew’s writing feels like an insider text, the only gospel to use the word church – ekklesia. Ironically, Matthew himself was probably an outsider – a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian from Syrian Antioch – writing at a time when the church was splitting from its Jewish roots, spreading widely, and welcoming in Gentile leadership. He lived in times of change and uncertainty, filled with tension, pain and joy – something we have in common.

A day’s drive from Antioch is an archaeological site called Dura-Europos, with one of the earliest churches we’ve found. It sits of the southern bank of the Euphrates River, near the present-day Syrian village of Salhiyé. The church is a converted house, the kind of place we read about in the Acts of the Apostles, and on the walls, there are frescoes, the earliest Christian paintings we know about, predating the paintings found in the Roman catacombs. Family portraits from another generation, links in our chain.

Each generation

These paintings are surprising, not simply because of their age. There are no images of the crucifixion nor of the nativity stories. Jesus is depicted as a young, beardless man, and in each image, he is doing something active: walking on water, carrying a sheep, healing a lame man. We know these images are Jesus because we know the stories.

The fresco I find most striking seems to illustrate Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, each with a lamp and only some with oil. These girls were called to wait, ready, until the bridegroom arrived, and their light would bring courage in the dark and joy as the celebrations began.

So much of faith, I think, is courage. People walk in darkness. We all do, and our stories have difficult seasons. Perhaps a large part of our life of faith together is finding ways to share light in dark places and to grow courage together – quite literally to en-courage each other. In each generation, link after link, God equips us for this work, and we are connected by the stories we share.

Adapted from a sermon Katie preached at Canton Uniting Church, Cardiff, Wales.


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