The execution of 21 Coptic Christians shown in the ISIS video released this past Sunday is disturbing. It is frightening. It drives us to our knees beseeching God’s mercy and protection. David’s pleas in Psalm 31 are among today’s reading from The Daily Office. I prayed for Coptic brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters throughout the Middle East and Africa, as I read the Psalm.
Much has been written about the martyrdom of these brothers in Christ, and, indeed, they are brothers and martyrs. Surely the world is not worthy of them.
An article posted just today at The Daily Beast, has been one of the more helpful reflections on the executions and, especially, the video sent to the world. The authors, Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa, are self-described as “liberal Muslim feminist journalists who reject the vision of the Islamic State.” Among other things, the writers affirm what others have reported, that on the video at least some of the captives are heard or their lips are seen evoking the name of Jesus as they go to their death.
In their analysis of the Arabic narrative on the video, Nomani and Arafa point out that the video is addressed to “the community of the cross,” and that the captives are described as “people of the cross” and “subjects of the cross.”
It is altogether safe for me to describe myself as a person of the cross, a subject of the cross; for us to name LPC as a community of the cross. But what does it mean? What does it mean to be a subject of the cross, that is to live in subjection to the cross? It means, of course, to live in subjection to the One who died upon the cross.
We have begun the Lenten journey to the cross. On this journey we are not bound for a glorious spring morning with butterflies and daffodils, but a Friday we dare call good when we behold the man upon the cross, our sin upon his shoulders. Yes, we hear our own voices cry out among the scoffers. And we hear him say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” We confess that we are among those unknowing ones in desperate need of forgiveness.
On our journey, we are bound for a garden with an empty tomb where we will say, “I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart: his wounds have paid my ransom.”
To be a subject of the Cross is to be subject to the man upon the Cross who prayed that the Father would forgive them.
Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church says in the aftermath of the martyrdom of the 21 Coptic Christians, “Of course it will sometimes go against what people want, but as Christians we must forgive. I will continue to advocate for people who are oppressed, and to stand up for those who do not have a voice of their own, but when it comes to crimes perpetrated against us, there is only one way forward, and that is to forgive. If we don’t forgive what do we have? Retaliation, resentment and anger, but no solution and no closure.”
To be a person subject to the Cross means to forgive. At first I was surprised to read the Bishop add, “I think as Christians that’s our mandate, it’s what we do. I don’t see it as being difficult.” But he is right. It is more difficult to live a life of retaliation, resentment and anger.
To be a subject of the Cross is to forgive because we have been forgiven. It is to boast in nothing, save Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.
The world is not worthy of the martyrs, Scripture says. But may we live lives worthy of the man upon the Cross by living lives marked by forgiveness. It is not difficult for those who know forgiveness.
See you Sunday