We’re coming off of several days of significant attention to the Christian faith, and it wasn’t simply because of Holy Week.
We witnessed the destruction of centuries of history at an iconic church in Paris. An uncontrollable fire broke out at the Notre Dame Cathedral, filling the world with sadness given the enduring legacy of faith this church represents for Christians and also the remarkable historical significance it carries for all of civilization.
While the blaze at Notre Dame made headlines, and rightfully so, lesser-known fires burned in three churches across the American South just days before.
The reason I want to draw your attention to these fires is because these particular incidents were no accident, and they all occurred at churches in Louisiana with congregations who were majority African American. They appear to be intentionally set by a bigoted individual who doesn’t seem to understand that faith in Christ and Christian worship is for every tribe and tongue. As we all know, this is certainly not the first time a racially motivated crime has occurred at a church down south.
The latest story to fill our news feeds is yet another senseless attack on believers at a synagogue in Poway, California. Less than one week earlier Christians, on Easter Sunday, were attacked in the island nation of Sri Lanka. More than 300 lives were lost that day, most of whom were peacefully worshiping at their local church.
Consider the fact that incidents like this are still a weekly routine in Northern Nigeria. Attacks on Nigerian Christians are so common that they hardly make international headlines anymore. I assume very few of those reading this knew of the eleven innocent young men who were killed during an Easter parade in Gombe State, Nigeria.
Christians around the world are oppressed in a variety of ways, and it only seems to be getting worse. Yet it’s important to remember people of other faiths are targeted as well. If we don’t stand for the freedom to worship for every faith, then we can’t stand for any faith. If we truly want to love our neighbor, then our outrage must be universally applied.
The memory is still fresh in my mind of the 50 individuals who were gunned down while worshiping in their mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last month. In a town that draws its namesake from Christ, it’s an added measure of insult to the non-discriminating love the Prince of Peace came to show the world.
All of these moments mentioned above I am sure have caused Christ to weep.
I wish those who commit acts of hatred and bigotry in the South understood that Christ’s love is available for all of humanity, not just a particular race or people of a certain heritage.
I wish those who stormed the churches of Sri Lanka and the mosques in New Zealand to unleash bloodshed understood that we don’t have to shed innocent blood anymore. The final sacrifice has been made and every debt is paid.
As the nostalgia over Notre Dame and the historical events that happened there began resurfacing in our memories, many folks recalled the hero Joan of Arc and her beautification in that cathedral by the Pope. Joan of Arc is famous for all the right reasons, most notably as a Catholic martyr. While she was preparing to be burned at the stake, she asked to see a cross in her last moments on earth; and her final words were, “Hold the cross high that I may see it through the flames.”
My hope is that everyone can come to the end of their life with the same determination and faith that Joan of Arc had. In spite of injustice, in spite of immense pain, she could still fix her eyes on the cross and remember the unrivaled forgiveness and love that Christ displayed for the world 2,000 years ago.
If you’re in Louisiana, or Sri Lanka, or Nigeria or New Zealand, I pray you can find comfort from above in the midst of your grief. And everyone, for that matter, whatever faith you were raised in or whatever culture you find yourself in — I want to affirm that there’s a seat at the table for you among followers of Christ.
Christ’s love for mankind crosses every cultural, demographic and religious barrier; it’s a fountain from which all are welcome to drink. No fire can quench, no bullet can kill and no explosive can destroy the enduring message of Christ’s love for every soul that walks the earth.