In an exciting bit of news for those who care about such things, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland has recently put a new work on display: the Codex Usserianus Primus. May I introduce you to a seventh-or-possibly-fifth-century fragment of the Gospel?
The manuscript is fragmentary, but contains “one extant decoration in the shape of a framed cross marking the end of Saint Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Saint Mark’s” (source). Scholars debate the origin of the text and are not sure whether it was written inside Ireland or perhaps on the continent, but set the date from somewhere around the 5th to 7th century. You can view the digitized codex in its entirety here.
I always smile when I see something like this. I felt the same way in Rome when I stumbled into ancient churches or found rudimentary crosses carved into stone, evidence of believers long gone. Something about those places felt strangely home-like and comforting: a reminder of the enduring, eternal nature of the Gospel and how it continues to exist and transform over different ages and different cultures.
I’ve read several accounts of the monks and scribes who produced documents like the Codex: it was an elaborate and tedious, although meditative, job. I wonder if, at the time, those monks and scribes understood the full significance of what they were doing or understood what it might yet become. When they carefully inked crosses and elaborate borders, when they transcribed the word of God with great and deliberate care, could they possibly have imagined us? Believers, centuries removed, worshiping the same God and reading the same Word? Hauling it around on portable electronics and passing it out freely?
It’s easy for us to narrow our perspective of Christianity down to what our church is doing, or what our group of Christian friends is doing, or even what we are doing by ourselves. And in that frame Christianity can often feel “small” and even localized. But we serve a big God. And a glance at something like the Codex reminds me that God truly has raised a mighty army of believers, both in the past and the present and in the future, and that we cannot fully fathom the extent of what He desires His church to do under His grace by serving in love.
If you’re discouraged because what you do feels like not all that much, or if you’re suffering from drop-in-the-ocean syndrome – where everything you can do seems like nothing at all – then take heart. You’re not working alone. You’re not serving alone. Countless followers of Christ have come before you and exist alongside you and will come after you, and you have something important to offer at this historical moment, at this particular time. God’s plan and the great work of Christianity is so much greater than we can imagine: a love and a faith that encompasses all who willingly follow. We may never be able to make out the entire scope of it – surely it’s beyond our comprehension – but we are playing a part.
The faith-work of today can be the blessing for generations to come, even when we don’t realize it. Keep at it.