Having lived my entire life in Baptist churches and attended a Baptist seminary, I knew very little about feast days. For much of my life, every Wednesday night dinner or picnic on the church grounds was a feast day. Baptists don’t worry about gluttony.
But I have come to appreciate the nature of feast days in recent years as I learn to embrace the Lenten cycle. The first time I chose to fast from social media I did so for the entire time from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday (I’m sure it was suppose to go through Saturday but I’m Baptist). Since there are more than forty days between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I failed to realize that the calendar involves a recognition that fasts can be broken even while practicing them. Last year, I allowed myself five minutes on Facebook and Twitter on Fridays.
This year, however, I decided to look at the actual feast calendar. March 7 (closest to today) is the observance of the martyrdom of Saint Perpetua and Felicitas (Felicity). The image at the top of the page is a recent rendering of the two women who as catechumens had not yet been baptized in the faith but had died nonetheless because they would not recant their conversions in the third century.
Like most saints, their actual lives and the stories that grew out of their lives show a need to glorify difficult choices about forsaking family and empire to embrace the new faith of Jesus. What does these women on the edge (North Africa) of the Roman empire say to me as a white man in the heart of the American empire? Quite a bit but not in the ways we often invoke saints.
They along with a group of other believers chose to remain faithful to one another and the community that nurtured them died not in some widespread persecution but because they had violated social norms in their hometown. Their resistance isn’t so much against the Roman empire as it is an affirmation to those who trained them in their new faith. But the critical point I take away this day from their actions remains their commitment to follow a path they never fully became part of. The fact that the early church celebrated women who had not become Christians before their deaths means that we may know the power of community without ever having to be fully immersed into its membership. God’s reach proves greater than our narrow understanding of belonging. We can be a people of that kind of community to those around us without demanding full submission to our own experiences.