The Bema

An Inspired Essay by Rev. Marcia Sutton


Entering the ruins of the ancient city of Corinth, I paused to speak a blessing for beloved St. Paul. This is where he ministered and taught for eighteen months. It's also the place to which he scribed one of humanity's most illuminated writings on Love. His two letters to the Corinthians are part of what is known as the Epistles in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

I took a moment to reflect on how much Paul's ministry was a model for my own. First of all, it was through Paul that I entered into a personal realization of the Risen Christ. He didn't know the man Jesus but he was transformed on the road to Damascus through the Living Presence of the Mystical Christ. In the early years of my ministry, I studied St. Paul and he became an example for what I wanted to experience in relationship with this transcendental activity of God that is called Christ. Also, Paul's model of a "church without walls" is what formed the basis of my decision to leave the pulpit ministry and begin the work of the Christ Church of Co-Creation.

Feeling Paul's presence, I passed by the ruins of the Library and walked through the ancient Agora. This is where the people of Corinth gathered to conduct their affairs, shop for goods, listen to the philosophers and hear the politicians debate or to simply socialize with their friends and neighbors.

Looking beyond the Agora, I saw the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo and directly across from this Temple, my eyes were drawn to the Bema. Measuring more than ten feet high, it was a strong, solid platform and one of the few structures that had remained intact over the centuries. As I approached it, I became aware of the beauty of this perfect Sunday morning. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun was shining its glorious rays that, in turn, were sparkling off the marble ruins surrounding where I stood. A quiet joy began to arise within me. I walked where St. Paul walked, where he lived and where he ministered the "good news" of Freedom in Christ.

It was in Corinth that Jesus came to Paul in the middle of the night and said,

"Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." ...Acts 18:9,10

And so, Paul stayed in the city and continued to teach in the Agora and minister in the homes of those like Aquila and Priscilla who were his devoted followers and fellow workers in Christ. It is written that many of the Corinthians believed, just as Jesus had promised, and also many were baptized.

The longer Paul stayed and preached, the more the Jews became threatened. They accused him of blasphemy. Finally, in their anger, they brought him up before the governor's representative to the perch of the judgment seat known as the Bema. The deputy dismissed the charges against Paul and released him.

Continuing through the ruins of Corinth, I approached this famous area known as the Bema. Standing there silently, I looked out to those who had gathered before me, people from my group as well as other tourists who had journeyed here this day. The words I read to them came from my heart as if they were floating through the expanse that is beyond time. Gently, I began reading from the Word of God according to St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians...

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unright-eousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.

But now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." ...I Corinthians 13

These very same words had been heard here before, perhaps many times across the centuries. Now I share them with you, knowing that what was written so long ago continues to be alive with meaning for us today. I feel St. Paul's anointing of Love upon my heart. It is this gift of Love that is continually extended to all of humanity through the Loving Presence of Living Christ. Just as St. Paul said,

"Christ in us, the hope of glory."

Rev. Marcia Sutton October 2002