Faith Works 9-13-14
Remember those in bondage
Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. (Hebrews 13:3, KJV)
In the year 326, the fourth century of the common era or "year of Our Lord" or "Anno Domini" in Latin, hence "326 AD," the mother of the emperor of Rome, Helena, went to Jerusalem in search of the original cross on which Jesus died.
Historians and antiquarians can debate how likely the objects or the location really were that Constatine's mother found that year, but it became the basis for the commemoration in many church traditions of "Holy Cross Day," the feast of the Holy Cross, and a time to remember not only Christ's sacrifice, but all martyrs.
That day on the calendar is Sept. 14, so this year Holy Cross Day falls on a Sunday. A number of Christian communions have called for this Sunday to be also a day of prayer for the persecuted church. Fasting is a tradition often associated with Holy Cross Day, in the English speaking world for the week following on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, what are known in Anglican tradition as "Ember Days." These were once a cycle of four seasonal fastings through the seasons, to make sacred the whole year's calendar within which the Christian calendar turns on Advent through Lent and Pentecost.
You may have your own tradition of fasting and prayer, you may simply have a regular practice of praying in your own fashion, or prayer may still be a bit of a mystery to you, let alone "Ember Days" and "Anno Domini" and such . . . but we still have the opportunity to all join together in an act of solidarity and remembrance in this coming week.
The cross is the sign to Christians of God's love, and Christ's sacrifice, and the promise of a Comforter, a Spirit of holiness who will come when we call out in the name of Jesus for the presence of God. Any occasion that points us to the cross, and what it represents, is healthy for the soul, cleansing for our own spirit, and bracing to the intellect. This year, for we who worship in the West, it is a focus that has a particular sharpness.
Words fail to describe what we are only seeing in glimpses of what the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East are experiencing. We've had social media horrors flash onto our screens of what's being done to captive journalists, and hints of wider tragedies for oppressed minorities like the Yazidis whose mountaintop holdout flickered across our view.
What is still not being well interpreted by we in the clergy, or often mentioned in the general media, is that places where Christian churches, monasteries, convents, and villages have been peacefully coexisting with surrounding faith traditions for literally two thousand years are suddenly being slaughtered, enslaved, destroyed. The lucky are simply exiled into a cold desert night with the clothes on their back, and not always even allowed to keep those; the somewhat less fortunate are being sold as slaves or wives under circumstances that might as well be called the same.
And this is not just in Syria or northern Iraq. In Iran for some time, in Saudi Arabia again and again, and more recently in the cities and desert fastnesses of Egypt or Libya, Christian groups are coming under the torch and the sword, the knife and the gun.
You can learn more, if you can bear it, at persecution.com; Voice of the Martyrs began as an organization documenting Communist oppression of Christians and congregations, but now must try to learn and explain to us what is going on in the developing world. Their updates come from the Middle East, across Africa where Nigeria continues to explode in violence and erupt in kidnappings, to the backcountry of India and into the less visible corners of Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as the somewhat more publicized recent moves by China against churches, both established congregations and house meetings alike.
It is a great deal of pain to absorb. If nothing else, this Holy Cross week we are asked to be Christians in prayer together, for one another, and particularly for the persecuted church around the world. Brothers and sisters, let us pray.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him of the stories you have heard on the road at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.