Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Cloud of Witnesses: Reflections on the 4th Sunday of Easter

All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region. - Acts 13:48b-49

Apostle Andrew spreading Gospel in what is now known as Russia

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. - Revelation 7:9

Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.” - John 10:27-30

There is one clear overarching theme this Sunday: The spread of Christianity to people of every nation and the great cloud of witnesses that proceeded us to Heaven. There are 2.18 billion Christians in the world, around half of them are Catholic. This is all from a relatively small band of Jewish men and women from Galilee. How crazy is that?

The vision from Revelation that we read about this week (Revelation 7:9, 14b-17) is a view of the martyrs in heaven. John sees that these martyrs dressed in white robes carrying palm branches, both of which are traditional symbols of martyrdom. Someone explains to him that they are now happy and fulfilled in Heaven. Now, when we think of martyrs, we will think of St. Stephen being stoned (Acts 7) or St. Peter being crucified upside down.

We don't think about the fact that Christians are being killed for their faith today. In the history of Christianity, about 70 million people have died for their faith. Sixty-five percent of those martyrdoms have occurred in the last century. Let me repeat that: 65%. That's around 45.5 million people! Most of these martyrdoms have occurred under Communist and fundamentalist Islamic regimes.

Christians in the countries colored red on this map face persecution   

The modern face of the persecuted church: A bombed out church in India
We have an ever growing cloud of witnesses. Not to belittle our current issues with the HHS mandate and stuff like that, but here in the United States we at least have the freedom to go to church. We have the freedom to pray and to read the Bible. We can get together in public places with other believers. We can protest governmental policies we don't like. There are many, many Christians in the world who cannot do any of those things.
Think about that the next time you are too tired for church on Sunday or you don't feel like doing your prayers. (Just like you think about the starving kids when you throw away your leftovers.) 
Read more:
Recent news stories about the persecution of Christians (Each word is a link. All of the stories are from this month)

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