Monday, April 20, 2015

'Let Us Forgive All, By The Resurrection'

If we’re going to claim to be Christians and worship Jesus Christ and proclaim His Resurrection, we can’t just sing the beautiful hymns of Pascha and not live by them.

by Ralph H. Sidway

'Be not faithless, but believing!'
My priest gave an astounding sermon on Thomas Sunday. In the midst of proclaiming the historical truth of the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, he challenged us all in a way we might never have been challenged before, especially in our age of near universal apostasy and “soft” persecution in the West, and of harsh and bloody persecution in the Middle East and throughout the entire Islamic world around the globe.

I wish I had a video for you, but you’ll have to trust my feeble paraphrase.

He said, in effect, “We can’t just sing these beautiful hymns week after week, and ignore what they actually say. They challenge us to forgive. This is the very heart of the Gospel.” 

He was referring especially to the Paschal Stichera ("Let God Arise..."), which in an ecstatic outpouring proclaims the following:
“Let us call ‘Brothers’ even those who hate us! And forgive all, by the Resurrection…”

This is the core of Christian life, to forgive and love our enemies, for Christ Himself taught us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust...  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (MT 5:43-48)

We have seen real examples of this divine, Resurrection Forgiveness in the statements from some of the families of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs of Libya:
The mother of Kyrillos (Cyrus), one of the 21 Coptic Christians recently butchered by the Islamic State in Libya, said in a recent interview that she forgives the Muslim murderers of her son — since he is now “with his Lord” — and prays that they see the light and turn from evil. 
When asked if she had any message for her son’s executioners, she said, “I thank you [for his martyrdom], may the Lord touch your hearts and light a way for you so you don’t end up in a bad place — light a way for you so you don’t end up in hell.”

In another recent example, Christians in Niger are forgiving and praying for the Muslims who destroyed their churches and killed their families:
"My prayer is that they would come to know Jesus and that the Lord would touch them even in a dream," Ruth, Pastor Issa's wife, told CBN. "I want God to do to them what He did to Paul the Apostle when he persecuted Christians. God touched him on his way to Damascus. I want those men to experience the same touch from God!"

Here in the USA, the YouTube video message from a group (Coptic Orthodox, I am guessing) calling itself ‘Mighty’ on the West Coast, titled ‘A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS’, vividly and creatively picks up on this message of the Lord, and like the families of the Coptic and Niger martyrs, goes beyond forgiveness, inviting the members of the Islamic State to join us at the foot of the Cross where we all may unite in repentance as brothers. 

The message from 'Mighty' is proclaiming the Gospel even to ISIS, offering to them eternal life instead of the damnation which they are heading towards. Even the blood on ISIS' hands can be washed away by Christ’s loving sacrifice on the Cross.

As they say in the video, “Even now… Even you.” 

This is the message of Jesus Christ, the message of the Cross, and the message of all true Christians.

'Father, forgive them...'
When Jesus hung on the Cross, He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

He wasn’t just forgiving the Roman centurion and soldiers who crucified him. He wasn’t just forgiving the Sanhedrin and Temple Guards who arrested him and sentenced him to death. He was forgiving each of us who crucify Him anew each day with our sins and our carelessness, our laziness, our neglect.

He was even forgiving ISIS.

As we enter into a new era of mass martyrdom, where all of us Christians may soon be forced by sword and circumstance to confess Jesus Christ or die for His Name, we must get aligned with the Lord, we must get ready for the trials approaching.

Which means we must have His love and forgiveness in our hearts, so we may forgive our enemies, and like the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs of Libya, have His Name on our lips as we meekly surrender our lives into His outstretched arms.

Jesus pronounced forgiveness from the Cross, and then shattered the power of sin, death and the devil by rising from the tomb on the third day. Abiding in Him gives us the divine power to “forgive all, by the Resurrection.”