Though Lutherans don’t practice their veneration in any form, we still speaks of ‘saints’ when we refer to those who have been stalwarts in the Christian faith. However, if Lutherans DID have the practice of designating patron saints, some of us would be making a pitch for ‘Saint Eutychus’ as a Christian of antiquity who we can really relate to. Who’s that you say? Why the patron saint of those who fall asleep during long sermons!
Acts 20:7-12 tells the story. Paul the famous missionary apostle of the early church was in the city of Troas in Greece and the believers had gathered in an upstairs room to “break bread” (the early Christian meal of worship and Communion). Since Paul was planning to leave the next day he apparently had a lot of final remarks to share with them. Well, the room was warm and stuffy, and as the gathering stretched past midnight, the inevitable occurred – some folks were having trouble staying awake. Eutychus (YOU-tee-cuss) was a young man who had seated himself in an open window and “who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.”
Needless to say, this disaster filled the congregation with dismay. But there was a happy ending. “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don’t be alarmed’ he said. ‘He’s alive!’” We’re then told that everyone went back upstairs and broke bread together and ate, and continued meeting until daylight when Paul finally departed. Only then did young Eutychus go home: “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”
Though this isn’t a text that’s usually selected for sermons (wonder why!), one suspects that more than a few preachers might secretly fantasize about seeing one of their habitually-dozing parishioners meet with an instructive accident. (Nothing as extreme as plunging from a third-floor window, of course – but maybe something really embarrassing, like falling out of the pew?)
A Bible story like this reminds us that the first Christians were ordinary folks, no different from us. Despite the fact that they were being favored by the preaching of the premiere evangelist of the Christian faith, they were still flesh and blood struggling with the same limitations. We smile in recognition – and maybe feel a little better about ourselves when we too find ourselves getting drowsy during a sermon.
But in other ways, those early Christians of Troas were very different from us. One wonders what they would have to say to the modern folks who grumble about the inconvenience of the sermon running a few minutes too long when they’ve been parked on a padded pew in a spacious air-conditioned sanctuary! Can you even imagine what kind of things you’d hear if one of our services ran from the dinner hour through the night till dawn, and didn’t even end when one of the kids had a near-fatal accident? Man, they took this seriously!
So what was different about them and us? It certainly wasn’t that they had things any easier than we do. But they clearly had a real hunger to be fed with the good news of the Gospel – to take maximum advantage of the opportunity of hearing about the loving God who had actually chosen to suffer His own death so that they could live eternally! They had a real sense of urgency to hear God’s Word!
So, let’s embrace ‘Saint Eutychus’ as a brother who endearingly shares our fallibilities. But let’s also celebrate him as a model of Christian fortitude – the kind of Christian who could suffer a terrible accident and not let it deter him from staying the course! Like those early Christians, we too live in challenging times. Unlike them, we’re not in physical danger for our faith, but we too do urgently need God’s word to reassure and strengthen us for faithful life in Him.
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)