A Noble Company of Martyrs
The recent murders of young Christians in American schools and churches have brought deep and many-hued sorrows to those who love the slain, and prayers for their comfort are being offered in all places. Lest we forget, however—in our empathy, and encouraged by an infidel media’s preoccupation with the horrors of bloodshed and human misery—if our faith is true, these are places of resounding victory, places where evil, frustrated to madness by the joy and hope in which believers live, lost the cynical composure with which it usually works among us, showed its true face, and in its rage, shed the seed of the church and sent many souls leaping to heaven. These are times for tears, to be sure, but even more for trumpets and drums, of loud shouts of praise, and of unapologetic rejoicing.
I have heard that some need prayers because of deep regret that it was by their encouragement one of the slain came to the place where he or she met death. But let us be frank, these are not Christian regrets, and they must be put aside. What answered prayer shall bring to these is not the ability to forget that they were thus responsible, or some mitigation of some perceived guilt, but rather the clarity that they are more like the friends of the bride or the bridegroom who have brought the betrothed to the place where the vows that bound them to their Lord—vows they made voluntarily, delivering their bodies and souls to him—were consummated. No less an honor than this.
The slaying in the Baptist church brought to my own mind the ancient account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the saintly old bishop of Smyrna. After he finally expired—it didn’t prove easy to do him in—and his body—hateful, and an embarrassment, to evil spirits and men—had been destroyed as much as circumstances allowed, his friends rushed in to claim what remained, “more precious than the finest jewels,” to enrich “in a suitable place” their own worship. For many years this sounded strange to my Protestant ears. Honoring the bodies of our dead is something we all do, but when they become aids to worship, it is one small step from idolatry. I still believe this true, but also that there is another truth that stands beside it. If the bodies and blood of Christians are holy, are not their remains emblematic of that holiness? Not that they are, of course, anything “in themselves” but dust. We are not concerned, however, with mere dust, but with what dust is when it becomes the stuff of the formation, redemption, and resurrection of man. The body is never itself waste, but is always, even in its most reduced and scattered state, the object of the constituting, animating, and transforming power of God.
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S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
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