Just this week, the world watched in horror as one of its enduring symbols of faith, Notre Dame de Paris, burned helplessly. But we awakened the following morning to photos of a glowing cross standing amid the ashen rubble — a cross symbolizing pain and sacrifice, but also expressing an enduring hope.
With every news cycle we hear of another example of the darkness that seems to be ever increasingly prevalent in our world, especially for Christians and the Church.
Just this morning we are confronted with news of another attack on the faithful:
A series of eight devastating bomb blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches holding Easter services in Sri Lanka on Sunday, killing at least 207 people, including dozens of foreigners. source: News18.com
Officials in Sri Lanka have reported that the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers and have made the following request:
Sri Lanka Defence Minister Ruwan Wijewardene has urged media not to publicise the names of today’s attackers as other extremist groups could exploit the situation. “Don’t give extremists a voice. Don’t help to make them martyrs,” he says. (source: ibid)
Indeed the times are dark for the followers of Christ and his church.
But as Mr. Head wrote for Town Hall in the quote first above; “…a glowing cross standing amid the ashen rubble — a cross symbolizing pain and sacrifice, but also expressing an enduring hope,” we reflect upon that day two millennia ago when the followers of Christ were facing the darkest hours of their time.
His disciples and others had followed him as he taught, preached and worked miracles all over the region. At first some doubted but they soon learned to hang on his every word, desperate for his wisdom.
He promised them victory over death, a shining life everlasting after the end of one’s human existence; but then he was taken from them and his own precious glorious life snuffed out, taken from them by his enemies.
They were confused, he had spoke of victory over death, but yet he was gone.
They were frightened, terrified that his enemies would not be satisfied with his death and would then come after them. So terrified that even Peter denied knowing his teacher.
Then the news came that the tomb was empty.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” John 20:1-2
They became even more confused as they asked what happened to his body. The Gospel According to John tells us:
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. John 20:3-10
Then John writes, telling us how Jesus first made his resurrection known.
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
CHRIST IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!
As word spread amongst his followers their hopes were renewed, especially when the Risen Christ appeared to them. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes of one Christ’s appearances after his resurrection:
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:6
With Paul and his contemporaries, the work began to spread the news far and wide.
Within time, the church was founded and for two thousand years it’s presence–The original church, and those branches that followed such as the Orthodox and Roman Catholic, as well as the Protestant branches–created a framework that not only served the religious needs of its followers but also this foundation became the cornerstone of western culture and civilization.
But now that church is under attack from without as well as from within. As we mentioned earlier; Indeed the times are dark for the followers of Christ and his church.
With each passing day we read of attacks on Christians around the world, consider these headlines:
- European Churches: Vandalized, Defecated On, and Torched “Every Day”
- Report: “11 Christians Killed Every Day for Their Faith”
- Nigeria: Jihad against Christians
- CHINA’S ATTACKS ON CHRISTIANS SURGING ‘Highest level since end of the Cultural Revolution’
- Are Christians in America Under Attack?
- Regular Christians Are No Longer Welcome in American Culture
Actually I could spend all day listing actual news reports as well as op-ed pieces outlining how the followers of Christ and his church are imperiled today just as they were in those times so long ago. Some of us are even wondering if we will find ourselves in the same position as Peter did all those years ago.
But what about the attacks from within I mentioned earlier?
It would at least seem to the observer, that almost every denomination of the Christian Church has abandoned the core doctrines that contributed to the foundation of Western Culture and Civilization. From moral values regarding human sexuality and marriage to even core interpretation as to the attainment of salvation.
Today we are seeing some promote the message that God loves everyone unconditionally, which is true. However Jesus also said that not everyone would enter into the kingdom of heaven. While his teachings forbade the individual from taking justice into his own hands and persecuting those that disobey God’s Holy word, Christ also made it clear to us all, just as he did to the woman who accused of adultery, to go and sin no more. Conversely while Christ told us we must be as born again and his implied order of going and sinning no more, today, churches teach we can do as we want and we can still enter into heaven.
Some even at least appear to, if not outright teach that everyone, regardless of their faith/religious path will enter into heaven. Scripture very plainly tells us that this is not so. That being said, we see others hard at work redefining two thousand years of teaching and doctrine just to fit their modern sensibilities and proclivities.
If those within the church redefine mountains of doctrine, an act that insinuates the church was wrong in the past, then how can the church survive if it is proven to be irrelevant. If certain aspects of Christian teaching are now considered fallible how can it all not be immaterial?
Critics of those expressing the same concerns as I, counter with the statement that they are not finding God’s Holy Word fallible, just how it has been interpreted. They claim past and present theologians who cling to the traditional are that which is fallible. But then we have to ask if those who consider themselves authorities today and who unilaterally declare themselves the ultimate authority and they then redefine the message within God’s teachings, will they not be attacked and declared fallible by future authorities; who wish to validate their own proclivities and desires? This entire exercise has the end effect of making the entire church immaterial and of no value.
Therefore many of us have an inkling of how our predecessors felt that day before the news broke of the empty tomb. We are confused, we are frightened that the same enemies of Christ that have existed for two millenia will come for us. We silently ask ourselves if we can stand brave in the face of evil and sure death or will we be weak like Peter.
But I want to remind everyone that just maybe the picture of the cross shining in the embers of Notre Dame is a sign this Easter Sunday. A sign that Christ’s church will survive and like him rise triumphantly from persecution and the threat of irrelevancy from the secularization of the post modern church.
CHRIST IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED!