By Rev Mark Niblock
A few years ago, in the hazy days before the wains arrived, my wife and I had a holiday on the Italian island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples.
One of the highlights was a visit to Pompeii, which was destroyed in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. It was eerie to walk through the streets and see the remains of buildings, some of which were remarkably intact.
The city was highly advanced, with running water, a sewerage system, pedestrian crossings and even ‘speed bumps’ for traffic calming!
Volcanic soil is incredibly fertile and the people of Pompeii lived well in the shadow of Vesuvius.
When it erupted, they were totally unprepared. (By the way, experts predict that it’s due to pop again within the next 20-30 years or so: to quote Bob Dylan, if you’re gonna go, go now!)
The most moving part of the visit was seeing the people and animals who couldn’t escape, mummified in perpetuity. It reminded me of Jesus’ words in Luke 12:39-40: “If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
But the truth is that, to keep us on our toes in the meantime, Christ comes to us every day. We just don’t always notice.
There’s a Gaelic rune about hospitality that ends: ‘Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.’ Or, to quote the man himself: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The people of Pompeii were caught napping when Vesuvius erupted. Christ calls us to work at being more attuned to the signs of his coming, around and among us.
In so doing we can be surprised to encounter him in unusual places, and even more unusual people!