“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the reverence of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One.”
~ St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho)
It is hard to find the words to describe the events of this past Sunday.
One moment, we were celebrating All Saints Sunday, the day we remember those blessed ones who have walked before us in the way of Christ and inspire us to receive God’s blessing and share it with others. It was easy to think of the saints and remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And yet just as our service was ending, we were already mourning the death of 26 sisters and brothers in Christ at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Overcome with sadness and terror and anger, it was with broken hearts that we tried to make sense of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
In the middle of this emotional and spiritual earthquake, I was reminded of these words from St. Justin, one of the early martyrs of the Church. He describes the way following Jesus requires those of us who wish to be his disciples to lay down our weapons, take up our cross, and follow him, even unto suffering and death.
Especially in moments like these, this is perhaps the most unnatural thing we could do. When even churches are not safe from violence and bloodshed, it is easy to begin to tell ourselves that we need just a little more protection, just a little more security to keep us from being too close to the stranger, the other, and the neighbor it would be easier to ignore. This is not an apology for recklessness or an invitation to go looking for suffering; it is a steadfast refusal to answer violence with violence or live in fear of the other.
Justin’s most powerful word to his fellow Christians threatened by the violence of the Roman Empire, and to us who look to his example today, is that we are able to put down our weapons and cultivate a different way of life because of the future given to us through the Crucified One. The cross of Christ is God’s declaration that violence and death do not have the final word, and that God will not abandon us, even in the darkest night of our own making. God is the author of life, and there is always more to God’s story.
Our part to play in God’s story is this: to remember and to receive the difficult gift of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Let this be so.