He was buried in a Roman province far away from home, this Syrian Christian. We know he journeyed to Bath to take the waters and never made it home.
His body is on display for the tourists.
I saw this Syrian, a member of my mother Church, crossed myself and prayed.
Being dead, he still speaks. He draws attention, because modern people have a mixed relationship with the body. We like beautiful bodies propped up, made up, and a bit unreal. In fact, most bodies we see are virtual, prettied up with technology, and that is only counting advertising and not less savory practices.
As for the imperfect, the old, the dying, and the dead, we are more hesitant. We want death to be lovely, but death is a severe mercy. Death reduces us to bones and then ashes and dust. As the Syrian Christian is, we will be. Our forefathers and mothers saw dying and buried their dead in the churches they attended. When the grave yard was full, the bones joined the other righteous awaiting the Final Trumpet.
The dead will be raised.
Of course, we do not need the original bones. God will draw together what was out of what will be then and make all things anew. Still Christians love the body, because there is no fully human person without a body. We are meat men, not just souls renting a container. We are not just our souls.
The body of our loved one is sacred to us, because of what it was and what will be again. The age to come will restore what was and so we hold on to the bones as a promise.
This British museum holds on to the bones as a historical curiousity: just so.
It is curious how they misunderstand what a thing is: missing the sacred and so missing the point. Still our brother in Christ waits, lets us look, pray if we can, and prays for us.
This Syrian came a long way for something: healing? business? We do not know. That work is done, but in his burial his faith was obvious to the scientists studying his remains. He died with hope and that hope will not disappoint him. Meanwhile, over the ages, in the ground and now encased for the tourists he has done his work. He prayed for darkling Britain as the Romans left and night fell. He prayed for Alfred, the great Christian king. He prayed through the centuries mourning colonial sins and interceding against the Nazi.
This Syrian Christian has had much to do. Someday his work will be done, but not yet. His bones are an outer sign of this deeper reality.
This next Sunday I will go to a Church planted in Houston by Christians from ancient Syria. We will pray for our nation and I will recall this nameless brother and ask for his prayers.
The work goes on, but the final Christmas is coming when the work will be done, the present will come, and we will feast without end. The Syrian brother will be there and I will be able to learn his name. God help me to remain faithful in that blessed hope.