Editorial: The great ordeal
I don’t expect the Bible always to be topical and probably wouldn’t like it as much if it was, but I was struck by how much one of the readings this Sunday had to say about recent events.
A review commissioned by the UK Foreign Secretary (as we report in ‘News’) has concluded that persecution of Christians is approaching the level of genocide in the Middle East, and is prevalent in Asia and Africa. This was not hard to believe after the news, a fortnight previously, that 253 people were killed when three churches and three hotels were bombed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday (also in ‘News’).
And then, on Sunday, we heard this reading from Revelation:
I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands … These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God.
This was written at a time when Christians were being rounded up by the Roman empire and crucified, burned alive or torn apart by animals – the great ordeal. The writer pictures them not just resting from their struggles but waving palm branches. This was a common symbol of victory – Roman coins depicted the goddess Victory bearing a palm branch. In this vision, the Christians who have been crushed by the might of Rome are behaving like the victors.
Equally paradoxical, their robes are white with heavenly glory, not because they kept them clean in a cupboard, but because they have been covered in blood. Being thrown to dogs was a greater glory than the Emperor’s crown; staying true to Christ despite all was a greater triumph than killing an enemy.
Martin Mosebach, in this month’s interview, says he has found that spirit alive and undiminished in Egypt today. I have no confidence that if it ever came to the crunch, I would have the strength and courage to give my life for what I say I believe, and I am thankful to live in a time and place where I don’t have to. Let us honour those who stand firm to death and salute their victory. Let us speak out in solidarity with them and pray to have a share of that same spirit.
This article was published in the June 2019 edition of Reform