A week ago on Palm Sunday, believers had gathered in Egypt to worship God. By the end of the day, 44 people were dead and many wounded. Straits times reported
One attack struck at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Church in Alexandria, where the bomber blew himself up at the church gates. The other struck in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Coptic Christians believe their Church dates back to around 50AD, when Apostle Mark was said to have brought Christianity to Egypt. This makes it one of the earliest Christian groups outside the Holy Land. The Coptic Church separated from other Christian denominations at the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in a dispute over the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. (http://www.straitstimes.com/world/middle-east/church-attacks-in-egypt-who-are-coptic-christians-why-and-how-they-are-targeted)
Today is Easter Sunday and we wonder what else is happening around the word. We hear and see images of humanitarian crises happening in Syria; we hear about US-Russia tensions over Syria: we hear of threats from countries against each other and the build-up of a possible war; we hear of natural disasters happening here and there; and we continue to hear about terrorist attacks every other day.
What significance does Easter Sunday have in the midst of all these happenings?
If we look at the events leading to Easter Sunday, it was grim too. The Jews were looking for a messiah and on Palm Sunday, they welcomed Him singing “Hosanna in the Highest, King of the Jews!” because they thought Jesus would finally destroy the Romans and bring them freedom. They were looking for a political victory. By Thursday night, as Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, one of them would turn his back on him and betray Him. Even the disciples could not keep up with Him and they fell asleep instead of praying with Him. Jesus is then put on trial and eventually crucified the next day.
On Easter Sunday, the unexpected thing happened. Jesus rose from the dead. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Here are some 3 truths about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What does it mean for us today? Let us look at Egypt today and see what is happening to the church- the persecuted church. The Coptic church that was bombed last Sunday is historical and significant because it is located in Alexandria which was the capital of Egypt when St Mark established the early church.
A little over two years ago, 21 young men were martyred by terrorists and their execution captured on video. The church in Egypt produced a video to remember the martyrs. Let us hear what the church is Egypt is saying in the light of what is happening to them. Excerpts from the video:
Christianity in Egypt is very different from any other kind of Christianity because it suffered a lot. The Coptic traces their calendar dates to around 289AD when 140,000 Christians were martyred by the emperor Diocletian. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The church, instead of being snuffed by martyrdom, became more committed that they were willing to die than to deny Jesus.
The strength and resilience of the early Christians is what made the church with one of the longest histories to strive. The Coptic Church is nearly 2000 years old and martyrdom is part of the church. When the 21 young men were martyred, the captioned the video “People of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” It emerged that of the 21 men who were killed, only 20 were Christians. The other man was a non-Christian from Chad who saw the immense faith of his friends and when asked if he would reject Jesus, he said “Their God is my God” knowing that he would be killed. The young men were all simple workers who had come to Libya to earn a simple living. Nobody would have heard about them but when they were killed for their faith and their ordeal was captured online to horrify and terrify the world, it actually did the opposite. The men had stability and courage knowing that they were going to be killed and yet not yelling or screaming. The militants justified later that they were given a chance to deny their faith but they did not. It became their testimony. Persecution and martyrdom is rooted in Egyptian Church history. Martyrdom is very precious to Egyptian Christians because they value their faith. The faith of the simple young men challenges everybody. The real test is to be ready to die for God and they passed the test.
Did God not care and preserve the church in one of history’s darkest moments? Did God not strengthen the church when there are bombings and killings in the church? Did God not care about the church today in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Sudan , Libya? He is suffering with us because He walked the path we walk today. He climbed the hills we climb today. He spoke the language some communities still speak today in Egypt. He is aiding us and strengthening us through ways and means that those who have never been tried will not understand or comprehend. He gives sufficient grace in times of trouble. He is continuing to preserve his church and will continue to preserve until He comes again. The tragedy of the young men became acts of witnesses in the 21st century.
We need your prayer – to see His strength that is already available to us – to see God’s strength and power because in our weaknesses, sometimes we cannot see it – to help us stay here in Egypt through your prayers; to raise the next generation of faith -to know that the Church will keep going in this land -to be reminded that God is for us; and that nothing against us will ever conquer -to know that we really are the body of Christ together and that Jesus wasn’t lying when he described us “we are one”, He was giving us a true promise -to know that when we need you to hurt when we hurt, even as much as we rejoice when you are comfortable and rejoicing, we too are rejoicing with you even in our pain and we are comforted by your comfort -because this is our last life line
But when you are done praying, we need you to get up from prayer and -Obey what God tells you to do in prayer -Go and speak to your public policies about what’s happening in our region; the inhumane practices funded by foreign countries- to what end we don’t know -Go and teach your children to love Arabs, learn about them and understand them even if they are not believers- all Arabs -Walk to your neighbours who are different from you; reaching them not only with the bread of life but with the real bread they can eat so that after their hunger is filled, they can actually listen to the word and the good news about the bread of life -Get on the first plane and go to those places that God is calling you to go- even if it means quitting a good job; leaving a comfortable home; leaving a life of order and predictability; to go to a place of chaos and pain- if that’s what God is calling you to do -Lift your hands high in gratitude, in thanksgiving for what God is already doing with us, through us and among us- things that cannot happen in places of comfort, light, freedom; things that can only happen in places of hurt, darkness, and in places of oppression.
That’s how He moves and strengthens our faith. That’s how He takes all of our dependence and self- sufficiency He puts it on Him. Your prayer is our life-line.” (https://vimeo.com/125161160)
As we look around us, do we feel like the disciples left behind on Good Friday and Saturday? What hope does Jesus’ resurrection give us?
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:14–19)
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be a false religion, we would have no hope, our loved ones would be gone for good, and we would still be in our sins. Philip Schaff gives us a summary on the importance of the Resurrection based on Paul’s words.
“The Christian church rests on the resurrection of its Founder. Without this fact the church could never have been born, or if born, it would soon have died a natural death. The miracle of the resurrection and the existence of Christianity are so closely connected that they must stand or fall together. If Christ was raised from the dead, then all his other miracles are sure, and our faith is impregnable; if he was not raised, he died in vain and our faith is vain. It was only his resurrection that made his death available for our atonement, justification and salvation; without the resurrection, his death would be the grave of our hopes; we should be still unredeemed and under the power of our sins. A gospel of a dead Saviour would be a contradiction and wretched delusion. This is the reasoning of St. Paul, and its force is irresistible. The resurrection of Christ is therefore emphatically a test question upon which depends the truth or falsehood of the Christian religion. It is either the greatest miracle or the greatest delusion which history records.”
We wonder what the disciples must have felt when they saw Jesus after he rose from the dead. It’s easy to condemn those disciples for not getting it—but how often does this happen to us? How often do we doubt God’s Word and act as if it isn’t true? As a Christian, we know that Christ has promised to return someday to establish His everlasting kingdom—but how often do we become overwhelmed with fears about the future?
Let us lift our hands high in gratitude, in thanksgiving for what God is already doing with us, through us and among us- things that cannot happen in places of comfort, light, freedom; things that can only happen in places of hurt, darkness, and in places of oppression. For only in the darkest night can we see the stars clearly. Take heart. He is risen and will come again. Until then, let us proclaim Christ.
Ms Loliro Sani
April 16, 2017