Most Monday mornings start out the same way, sipping coffee and studying some text of scripture with a group of older ladies who have been gathering together for well over a decade. Yesterday went a little longer than the usual hour, but I didn’t mind, because the conversation spiraled into a conversation about persecuted Christians. Today that conversation seems even more important with the news that a brother in the faith was blessed to be counted among the faithful fallen.
I’ve heard many different reactions to what happened, some even claiming that Christians should be filled with righteous anger. I disagree. Martyrdom shouldn’t be met with anger, it should be met with hope. It is true that a priest was murdered and parishioners were taken hostage during worship in France. It seems to be true that the perpetrators of the attack were doing so in the name of Allah and for the faith known as Islam. But that really shouldn’t matter, because whether one is martyred by a muslim, a communist, or a zealot from any number of religious traditions the reality is the same, for the martyr and for the church.
Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. ~ Jesus
Persecution is part of the deal. When you were drowned in the waters of your baptism you were baptized into the life of one who suffered, into the life of one who died at the hands of both political and religious authorities, and most importantly into the one who overcame death. Christ’s words should not be taken lightly. Perhaps this should become part of the baptismal liturgy so that everyone knows what they are getting into. Christians have no right to escape suffering. If they persecuted Christ they will persecute us. And let’s be clear, not being able to say “Merry Christmas” isn’t persecution. Persecution is celebrating the mass and having your throat slit. It is being put on trial, thrown in prison, and losing your life. But the hardest part of persecution is knowing that it is part of the life of the church and will continue to be part of the life of the church until Christ returns.
Fear not, ISIS cannot claim you, for you belong to Christ. There is no such thing as a threat to the church for where Christ is, there is his bride. That is what his death and resurrection has secured. That is what your baptism guarantees for you, that you were baptized into his death that you might participate in his resurrection. We do not run from those who would seek to silence our voices, we let them come. We let them come because the one who speaks for us is coming again. We let them come because we do not have a faith that puts to death those who do not believe as we do. We have a faith that lets us be put to death because death is no longer a threat. It is no longer a threat because the tomb stands open.
There is no guarantee that America or any particular church body in America has a future. There is no guarantee that any country or any church body anywhere has a future. But there is a guarantee that the church, the body of Christ, has a future because Christ lives. So let them come. Let them come and put our God to the test. He has already won. They cannot take you out of his hand, for you are clothed with Christ, and he has already defeated death. Let them come that we might pray for them, that we might be worthy enough to be counted among the martyrs, whose very title means witness. Let them come that we might witness to them of the tomb that stands open, of the one who died and rose again, of the life that has defeated death.