Remember, Paul had been delayed in going to Antioch and then to Jerusalem, because he was seeking to evade those who wanted to take his life.
So, along with representatives from the Macedonian, Galatian, and Greek churches, Paul returned to Troas and stayed there for a few weeks. First, he waited to rejoin with Luke and Silas, who had stayed in Corinth to finish celebrating the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread with the brothers and sisters there. Then, the whole entourage, now reunited, stayed another week in Troas to fellowship with the assemblies who had gathered to meet with them.
Several New Testament passages indicate believers had begun, early on, to gather regularly on Sunday, the first day of the week, to commemorate the day Jesus rose form the dead. What this most likely looked like, in real life, was to celebrate the Hebrew Sabbath on Saturday, then gather at the end of the day, after sundown, to worship and celebrate as followers of The Way of Christ.
For many, Sunday was a workday. But, in the way days were counted, Sunday began at sundown on Saturday. Christians assemblies—ekklesia—would gather together at the end of the day with the intention of breaking bread together (which involved taking communion), study the teachings of the apostles together, and worship.
The apostle Paul had early on given guidelines for how this fellowship time together could best be kept,
When you come together, each one has
or an interpretation.
Let all things be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.
If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.1 Corinthians 14:26-31 (NRSV)
On this evening, the assemblies had sung hymns to Jesus, spoken creeds of faith, thanksgiving, and devotion, then settled in for a sermon from Paul. It is important to remember the evening had now been drawn into night, as Paul stood up in the flickering lamp lights to deliver what many believed would be his final words to them.
Within the assemblies, some were of those social and economic strata who had autonomy over their time and place. They were well-cared for and had the stamina to go long into the night with Paul. But others were servants and enslaved people, or hard workers at the very bottom of society. They labored long, hard hours, often did not get enough to eat, let alone time to sleep. For them, this was a very great sacrifice to remain after nightfall.
Imagine just such a one, sitting in the window in the hopes the cool night air would help him stay alert. Imagine the hotness in that room, grown stuffy with the bodies of so many people gathered close together, the very air getting used up. Eutychus most likely knew it would be a long shot for him to push so hard against his physical margins. But he did not want to miss this chance to hear from Paul himself, and to have his soul revived within him through the prophetic word being delivered.
Many others were undoubtedly struggling, yet loathe to call an end to their overlong day. Who knew if they would ever see Paul again? He lived under the constant specter of fierce opposition, death threats, arrest and bodily assault, as well as the dangers of travel.
I find myself in the same dilemma time and again. We have catch phrases for it—FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out,” and “YOLO,” “You Only Live Once.” We laugh, but both of those sayings have profound truth within them. There is such a thing as opportunity knocking on our door, and we missing out because that opportunity came and went. Some opportunities, as they say, don’t come knocking twice, but we can’t know which ones those are, in the moment.
We really do only live this life, in this body, but once. Whatever eternity holds for us is in the unknown future. What we have today only lasts today. There is such a thing as looking back and realizing what we had, that we no longer have. We redouble our resolve to live as fully in this moment as we possibly can, savoring it, pouring ourselves into it, for once it is gone, it truly is gone.
There is no doubt in my mind these thoughts slipped through the minds of those gathered there in that hot upper room with Paul.
“Oh no!” a high-pitched voice cried out, as a faint thud and wet-sounding crunch came up through the open window. In the back of the room people stirred and quickly rose to their feet, some thrusting themselves half out of the window in a delayed attempt to catch Eutychus’ foot, or robe, or anything, really, to rescue him.
Others turned, several more leapt to their feet, now pushing to the window to see what had happened. Paul stopped mid-speech as more people began to push their way to the stairs, grabbing torches from the walls and small oil lamps from the shoulder-high niches scattered about the room. Men and women clambered down the narrow staircase as fast as they could to the small courtyard below.
Luke the physician, and Paul’s long-time travel companion, had earlier positioned himself near the door, allowing the brothers and sisters who had journeyed—some from very far—to see Paul gather in close to the beloved apostle. Now, he was among the first to arrive by Eutychus’ side.
Luke knelt by the crumpled figure, blood slowly seeping out from under him. Bending so he could rest his head on Eutychus’ chest, hold his hand under Eutychus’ nose, and place his fingers gently on the young man’s neck, Luke closed his eyes to concentrate.
Slowly, he raised his head again to the shocked and silent faces gathering around him. With grave, tear-filled eyes, Luke slowly gave his head a small shake. No.
One by one, voices were raised in inconsolable grief, ululating across the courtyard and into night. Windows began to fill with lights and the shadows of those who now called out, “What’s happened?” Someone—Eutychus’ mother or father? A good friend?—picked the young man up, perhaps to carry him back into the house to begin their mourning.
But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”
Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.Acts 20:10-12 (NRSV)
What a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ promise of salvation and eternal life. Now, they would forever link the memory of having broken the bread of sacrifice and drunk the wine of redemption with Paul’s words ringing out over Eutychus “His life is in him!”
[Paul raising Eutychus | Jacques-François Courtin / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]