Lectionary reading for Holy Communion today: Acts 8:26-40.
Here is a person who not only believes in the God revealed to us in the Bible, but who goes to great lengths in order to join others in worshipping God. But as a gentile and a eunuch, he is doubly excluded. Gentiles were only allowed in the outer-most court of the temple—and as a eunuch, he may have had difficulty accessing even this margin. Even if he was able to, other people had set up a market in that space, robbing the gentiles of room within the ‘house of prayer for all peoples’.
Yet, he persists, even as he returns home, perhaps with a heavy heart. And as he reads from the Bible, he sees there someone he identifies with. A royal servant, who leaves behind no offspring, no heirs of his own.
And the Lord sends Philip, to make sure that this person is included; to affirm that his personhood is seen and welcome. Even to hold out hope that, though he will have no biological children, he could yet have many spiritual children (the Christian community in Ethiopia is as ancient a continuous church as you will find).
In these past few days, the world has lost two great heroes in the likeness of Philip, a young woman and an old man. Rachel Held Evans, who made room for those marginalised in the church and the wider society because of their gender, their sexuality, their hard questions and honest doubts, who would not sit down and be quiet and accept simplistic answers or downright rejection. And Jean Vanier, who made room for those marginalised in the church and the wider society because of intellectual disabilities; who made room for us all in our human weakness that we so demand we all hide from one another, and in so doing, disable our own personal and collective humanity.
We—the church, the world—need more like Philip, like RHE, like Jean Vanier; that more may go on their way rejoicing.