No one wants the moment in which we now find ourselves, yet this moment was made for true Christianity. This moment was made for remembering that Christians are followers of a leader who initiated a religion by means of an extreme act of sacrifice and suffering—sacrifice and suffering that did not end with what our leader, Jesus, had to endure, but continued on in the abuses suffered by Jesus’ apostles and disciples, and not just for a little while, but over the course of a large part of the next three centuries. The persecutions of Christians under the Roman emperors in those first three centuries after Christ were sometimes severe, sometimes not, however, when they were severe, as they were in the latter half of the third century and beginning of the fourth, the suffering of Christians was pervasive and without mercy, unless one recanted one’s faith.
Of the persecution inflicted by Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305 AD), Church historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, writes, “The storm was Empire-wide, from Britain to Arabia, but was particularly severe in the East, where Christianity had its chief numerical strength. It lasted more than a decade and endured longer in the East than in the West. Apparently the death penalty was inflicted only as a last resort, but torture was freely applied to induce the victims to recant and through it many perished…On occasion there was wholesale slaughter. Thus in Asia Minor a Christian town was surrounded by soldiers and burned, together with its inhabitants…In Rome the property of the church was confiscated and many of the members perished. In Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, the persecution was renewed again and again in the vicissitudes of the political situation and did not die out until the defeat (about 323) of the last of the persecutors.” (‘A History of Christianity: Volume 1’)
Recalling the history of our forbears in the faith occasions a question that may soon be ours to answer: Will we, if present and soon-to-be circumstances dictate, be ready to respond to our new reality as so many of the early Christians did to theirs? Will we be able to set aside our utterly reasonable fears and live heroically, forgetting the plight of our own well-being, and even that of our loved ones, and render spiritual care and material comfort to our neighbors with a courage born of grace, pointing directly to the power of God? A call to action such as this is not a call to recklessness, but rather a call to confidence in the Word–that the Word is true where Jesus challenges, “Do not fear those who kill the body (coronavirus included) but cannot kill the soul,” and Paul assures, “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (Matthew 10 & 2 Corinthians 4).
Releasing our grip on the benefits of this earthly life, placing ourselves wholly in the hands of God and accepting a possibly immanent death, we find ourselves set free from covering up, and, instead, empowered by the Spirit of God to live in true freedom and with immense courage and love. None of this is easy but all of this is attainable, by grace through faith, from our God made fully known in Jesus Christ.