The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, ‘Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.’ He did so. Then he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’ As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind!’ But she insisted that it was so. They said, ‘It is his angel.’ Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, ‘Tell this to James and to the believers.’ Then he left and went to another place. When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
What to make of this passage? Should those in prison pray and an angel will release them? What about the guards who were ordered to be put to death as they had lost their prisoner? Is Rhoda too excitable in that she went inside first before letting Peter in? Were those gathered still so blind to the capability of God that they did not believe Peter was there? Where did Peter go, so Herod couldn’t find him?
So often we pray for things and do not expect such a dramatic response. Often we pray for things not expecting any response and feel it is just “something we do”. But God is more powerful than we realise. We do not get our own way when we pray – it’s not like a birthday wish list, but we do get what we need – even if we don’t realise it.
Often we are like Rhoda in that we see God in someone and rush to tell others without fully embracing the moment and miss that interaction. Or we are like the people gathered and don’t want to believe, or can’t see what is in front of us because it feels too miraculous.
Whether we are cautious, or excitable, or underwhelmed or overwhelmed, let us believe in the power of prayer – not for what we want (or think we want) but for what we need – how we can serve our neighbour and be the hands, feet, eyes and ears in our community to make a difference.
Lord we pray to you out of habit, rather than hope, not always expecting you to be able to respond. Open our hearts to the possibilities you bring to work in us to change our perspective. Use us to bring your love to others and share your compassion to show us what is possible if we truly believe. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Watson SCM MediaCityUK Church, Salford Quays