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Archive for March 7th, 2016

At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that edict were Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and her maidservant Felicitas. Both were jailed at Carthage in North Africa along with three fellow Christians. During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Read more on these blessed martyrs and the actual account of their martyrdom here.

 

An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220)  penned that , “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  This was literally so in the building of the first church structures:  they were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicita after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.  We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major:  visibility, with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient.  But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built for convenience but for remembrance and rejoicing for the life of those martyred.  Though  I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements:  coliseums, courts, arenas, after all,the martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization. Today the martyrs are executed on the new crossroads of the internet and television for all to see.

Martyrdom is not convenient.  The persecutors think they will stop not only the Christians and the faith, but they can not. The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas encouraged a young Church.    The martyrs’ light so shines before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17). The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”.  We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see   1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient.  I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness  comes  not from within but from with out:  in the Lord,  in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21).

When I have read the many narratives of the martyrs of the first centuries of Christ’s Church, I always thought the reports of bulls, burning at the stake, flaying alive, had to be exaggerations.  After what we have seen in our time, in the Middle East, I no longer have any doubt to the historicity of those reports. The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage for our witness so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.  

The Christian martyrs, contrary to Islamic ‘martyrs’, do not destroy themselves to kill others.  Many of them so verbally witnessed to Jesus Christ in the Coliseum and other places so that the hearers could repent and be saved and live eternally in Christ.   The martyrs in Christ died so that others may call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. Perpetua and Felicitas would know the truth of this statement by a Lutheran Pastor:“When the devil is mocked, he sheds the blood of the mockers. When God was mocked, He shed His blood on the mockers.”   The icon above has the shape of heart, the heart of Christ in His love even for the persecutors.  The Church’s prayer is as Christ upon the Cross:  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The Lord’s salvation is also for the oppressor that they be freed from their oppressing, as was the Apostle Paul.

May the blood of Perpetua and Felicitas remind us of the precious, holy and innocent blood of Christ who has washed us in Baptism.  May the blood and the water of the 21 Coptic Christians remind us ever of our Baptism into Christ and encourage us when called to give a defense of the hope that is in us. They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, indeed:  “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Let us pray:

O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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Christ’s command and not on faith. As important as faith is for a worthy reception of it, Christ’s word in instituting the Supper — not faith — make it a sacrament. Unbelievers and those with insincere faith who receive Christ’s body and blood take them to their harm. The man in Corinth living in open sin with his father’s wife was harming himself. Without compromising the belief that the Lord’s Supper’s efficacy does not depend on faith, recipients are required to believe that Jesus is offered through the earthly elements, and only by this faith do they receive the forgiveness offered through them. Christ’s body and blood are received by the mouth, but their benefits are received by faith.

Dr. David P. Scaer, Professor, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN: Finding the Right Word — in Understanding Four Views on the Lords Supper

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