Death and Martyrdom in Sri Lanka

Yesterday, as many of us prepared to mark the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, Christians in Sri Lanka had gathered to do the same thing. As the worshiped the risen Christ, it happened. Suicide bombers detonated their horrible wares and killed hundreds. The attacks were well coordinated and timed for maximum death and suffering.

I don’t know who did this, and it doesn’t really matter. I do know that what happened must remind North American Christians that we are outliers in the realm of suffering and martyrdom. In Nigeria, Lybia, Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and other parts of the world, followers of Jesus often worship under the threat of persecution. The Apostle Paul understood exactly that kind of world, and he penned these appropriate words to the church at Rome:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

We mourn with the followers of Jesus in Sri Lanka. At the same time, we are struck with the reality that Jesus calls us to “come and die” as we follow him. We die to self, to our own agendas and self-interest. We are even willing to lay down our physical lives to our Risen and coming King.

We do this knowing that our allegiance is to Christ alone, and no earthly king, power, or authority. We seek to be good citizens of whatever nation-state we find ourselves a part of, and being a good citizen means that we “seek the welfare of the city” and advocate for policies that allow human beings to flourish. At the same time, we speak the gospel and invite people to give their allegiance to Jesus Christ because we know that the very truth of reality is embodied in him.

And we are very careful with giving temporal allegiance to any person, political party, or institution. When those conflict with our eternal allegiance to Jesus Christ, we reject them. And when we reject them, we will most likely suffer in one way or another. Our fellow Christians in Sri Lanka are suffering today. Join me in praying for them. At the same time, ask what they have to teach an American church that is so distracted and so willing to sell its soul to the illusion of politics.

Author: Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer recently retired after 24 years as Librarian and faculty member at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He loves good books, especially the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, and C.S. Lewis. He also enjoys film, especially movies that cause him to reflect theologically and culturally on important themes and questions.

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