Sunday, 28 May 2017

Preparing a Martyr

Words change in our life time and some words changed so much that we forget that what we are asked to do by Christ.  In the Acts reading from today we are asked to be witnesses (Acts 1.8) or rather the disciples (students) of Christ are asked to bear witness and by implication ourselves.  Yes, I said students because that was what his followers were, they were discipuli.  Indeed to bear witness is to be a martyr.  Yet, today when we conceive of martyrdom or being a martyr it is something with a bad ending.  Usually stoning, beheading or being burnt or crucified.  Of course for some it meant a multitude of mismanaged attempts to kill the person (See St Cecillia) and usually they have been turned into saints.  Yet, these were witnesses to Christ.  Looking at it from today's world the meaning is transitioning again to mean some form of terrorist.  Often the terrorist is blown up and is by this being a witness to their cause célèbre.

However, in the terminology of the church we often associate witness with a single person standing up either on the street corner with a personal PA unit spouting words about the scriptures.  Often a long winded sermon of their own interpretation or else a single person getting up in a church or worship setting and giving a witness to their life in Christ.  The two do not seem to equate the martyr of the bible and the witness of modern society.  At baptism we are asked to prepare witnesses aka martyrs for the start of their faith journey.  They are to be martyrs for Christ and the parents and godparents are assigned to the duty of preparing their initial journey until they can accept the challenges of the martyrs life.  We are life long disciples of Christ learning, just like students, to interpret that life so that we can be martyrs to Christ and God's love.  Yet if we equate a martyr's life with a modern witnesses life we are starting to loose ourselves in difficulties as the two do not seem to belong together.

Is this really what a martyr is or is it something more?

What have we done wrong?  How can we become so confused as to whether we are to be witnesses or martyrs?  The wrongness is simply corrected when we come to the understanding that there is a cultural shift that we need to account for.  Society today is an individualistic society whilst the society of the early Christians was communal.  This makes an very big difference.  The acts of witness that we speak about are individual not communal but the first thing that the disciples did was to come together as a community in prayer and worship (Acts 1.14).  It is our communal response that makes us martyrs not our individual witness.  It is our communal encouragement of each other to live in Christ that brings the response of outsiders to the unusualness of the Christian community.  In praying and worshiping together as a community we begin to find the joy and love of God in our midst.  In following our individualistic desires we break that communal bond and forever lose our sense of Christ's presence in our lives.  It is in community that we begin to recognise the other and accept the other into our midst, we do not do this individually.  Once we realise the power of living as Christians in community then we begin to understand our power of accepting the other into our own lives.  Community begins with the other not with our individuality.

If we are to form martyrs from baptism we have to ask our parents and godparents to instill this worth of community in the child.  Only when we have children growing up in our midst who reflect a joy of all and are willing to accept others into their midst do we begin to fully appreciate God's gift of grace in Christ.  Only when we are filled with God's grace can we witness bravely and fully so that we are martyrs in the present culture through our difference as a community.  those who lead may be picked out as individuals but it is the community that witnesses over and above the individual.

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