Epic Salvation – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Feast of the Martyrs of New Guinea

Revelation 7:9-12

I have never been a fan of reading fantasy fiction. To me, most books of that genre are too epic, too long, too overwhelming for me to follow for any length of time. Reading J.R.R. Tolkein’s saga, for instance, proved to be difficult for me, especially in keeping all the strange and magical details straight. So, too, for me, is the book of the Revelation to John, steeped in prophetic symbolism including plagues, warfare, bloodshed combined with numbers, colors, animals, angelic and demonic beings, not to mention dragons! Perhaps if, like the Lord of the Rings, they made a movie of Revelation, I might dive right in.

However, as an Anglo-Catholic, I will say that there are parts of Revelation that I find quite awe inspiring, especially the descriptions of heavenly worship. We heard such a passage today. It is passages like these that make the very stone and glass of this monastic church resonate for me as we join with the heavenly multitude in worship here on earth as in heaven.

Salvation belongs to our God! This word, ‘salvation,’ comes from the same etymological root as the word ‘salve,’ which means to soothe, assuage, or save. As a noun it, it is an ointment that you put on a wound to aid in the body’s healing process and to ward off infection. When the heavenly multitude exclaims salvation as belonging to God, they affirm that God has brought healing through God’s son, Jesus Christ, the sacrificial lamb given for the reuniting of God to all his creation and all the creation to itself. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, God has restored his perfect likeness in us—a likeness that became leprous with sin when our desire to be like God began to eat away our awareness that we were created in the very likeness of God. This disease (dis-ease) lulled us into isolation from God and each other, like an addiction that tears away the fabric of loving relationships.

In the calendar of the Church today, we remember the Martyrs of New Guinea.  The following is an excerpt from James Kiefer’s hagiography of the martyrs: “New Guinea, one of the world’s largest islands, is home to many isolated tribes, with many different cultures and at least 500 languages. Christian missionaries began work there in the 1860’s but proceeded slowly. When World War II threatened Papua and New Guinea, it was obvious that missionaries of European origin were in danger. There was talk of leaving. Bishop Philip Strong wrote to his clergy: “We must endeavor to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua.” They stayed. Almost immediately there were arrests. Eight clergymen and two laymen were executed “as an example” on September 2, 1942. In the next few years, many Papuan Christians of all Churches risked their own lives to care for the wounded.”

It is in their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that they recognized: to be created in the image of God, is to know that we have the capacity to mirror the same love, grace, and compassion as our Creator. That word ‘compassion’ comes from the Latin: com (meaning ‘with’) and passio (meaning suffering). To have compassion for someone means to suffer with them. I saw a meme recently that said: “If you call yourself an ally to a group of people and you aren’t getting hit by the stones being thrown at them, then you aren’t standing close enough.” The Martyrs of New Guinea stayed with the people they were serving, their brothers and sisters of God’s making, even in the face of death—an action that mirrors that of savior (or salve-er) Jesus Christ. They recognized that even though their race, culture, heritage, and the like, were different, they were indeed kin to each other as God’s creation and children.

How are you called to mirror God’s love, grace, and compassion? We may not die a martyr’s death for our faith, but we are called to the ‘giving of our lives’ for the spread of the gospel—that is the good news of God’s saving, salving love that is for the reunion of God to his children, and all of us to each other.

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” The blessed Martyrs of New Guinea whom we remember today.

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