Something Better and More Lasting – Br. James Koester

Hebrews 10:32–39

It was Lent 1977, and Anglicans around the world were asked to flood the Ugandan postal service with Easter cards. A few weeks earlier, the Archbishop of Kampala, Janani Luwum[1] had disappeared. The government reported he had been killed in a car accident while resisting arrest. Weeks later his bullet riddled body was found dumped by the side of the road. He had been murdered, not simply on the orders of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, but probably by Amin himself. I took several addresses, and months later I received cards in return, expressing gratitude that the events in Uganda had been watched by the world, and that the people had noticed.

The history of the church in Uganda, indeed the history of the church, is a history of martyrdom. Today we remember the martyrdom of 32 young men, pages in the court of King Mwanga, who in 1886 refused to give up their loyalty to Christ, and so were martyred, in an attempt to wipe out the small Christian community in East Africa.

The problem was that people were watching. The problem was people noticed. They noticed not simply the cruelty of the king. They noticed the courage and bravery of the martyred. And they were inspired, and their faith was kindled. What was seen in those young men was a willingness to die, not in opposition to something, but in affirmation of something greater, for they were seen to possess something better and more lasting[2] than even life itself.

In the same way nearly 100 years later, the world watched, and people noticed. I certainly did. I watched. I noticed. I was inspired, and my faith was kindled, for in Archbishop Luwum I saw someone willing to die, not in opposition to a tyrant, but in affirmation of something greater. In Archbishop Luwum, I saw someone who possessed something better and more lasting than even life, and I wanted it.

The witness of the martyrs is powerful, not because we are in awe of what they lose, but because we are inspired by what they have, and we find ourselves wanting it. We see in them a life of courage, inspired by their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Seeing them, we find in ourselves a desire for the same life of faith and courage, which allows us to stand firm even in the face of death.

As those cards from Uganda began to appear in my mailbox that summer, my faith deepened, because through them I was able to reach out and touch a life of courage, marked profoundly by faith in Jesus, and I knew I wanted such a life.

Today as we remember the martyrs of Uganda, we too reach out and touch lives of courage, marked profoundly by faith in Jesus, and see that they possessed something better and more lasting than even life itself, and we say, as I did, I want such a life.

Lesser Feast Day: Martyrs of Uganda

[1]Archbishop Janani Luwum is remembered in the calendar of the Church on 17 February.

[2] Hebrews 10: 34b

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