If you are a Christian, and my assumption is that those reading this are or at least have a favorable impression of Christianity, you may have heard the news of the various tragedies that have occurred in Egypt over the past six months. If you haven’t, you can be forgiven; allow me to summarize briefly.
On April 9 — a day liturgical Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday — 49 people were killed in two separate church bombings. ISIS claimed credit for the bombing, which was done intentionally at a time when churches were full with Christians worshiping. On May 26, at least 30 people were killed (the death toll may rise as there are still many injured) as a bus carrying Egyptian Christian pilgrims to a monastery in the Sinai peninsula was fired upon by ISIS terrorists. The gunmen were indiscriminate, killing men and women, children as young as 18 months old and the elderly alike.
These attacks were on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Coptic is the name for the church in Egypt that predates Islam and traces its founding to St. Mark in the first century. The Coptic presence in Egypt has remained steady since the second century and today is about 10 percent of the Egyptian population.
I relate this with two reflections. The first is historical — that the martyrdom of Christians often serves as the forerunner to the growth of the faith. I cannot explain it in human terms but as the second century Christian leader Tertullian noticed as the Romans were seeking to eliminate the Christians, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” It will be interesting to see what the church in these regions will look like in 100 years. If the 2000 year history of the church is any indicator, surely this blood will not be shed in vain.
The second is more personal in reflection. How much are we humbled by the example of these martyrs who were willing to give their life for their faith? Compared to them it is amazing how easy we have it.
Events like this should make us immediately thankful for the freedom of religion we enjoy compared to most of the world. For me I can’t help but ask myself questions like, “What am I really willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel, if I am willing to sacrifice at all?” I wish I could answer that with great confidence, but more times than not, compared to these Christians who give their lives, I feel ashamed at how little I want to be inconvenienced.
What I do know is that it is easy to gloss over news like this and move on to the next thing (maybe to avoid that very feeling) and we shouldn’t. We should stop and take a moment to remember those who are dying for their faith in Jesus as Lord in our time, and let ourselves be inspired by their witness.
Rev. John Inserra is the senior pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.