Reports from Citizens of Heaven

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.33.32 PMPhoto – Fr. Jacques Hammel, recently martyred in his church in Normandy, France
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

One of my visions of heaven involves a Starbucks-like setting where ambrosia and manna are served. Around the tables are saints from all eras and diverse localities. The conversation clearly thrills all those listening, for they are sharing the ways God has loved them, how they experienced God’s grace.

This scene, we may say, is the assurance of things they hoped for.

When we read and hear of the stories of the saints of the church, we are hearing reports from citizens of heaven. Until our time of arrival there, we have opportunity to eavesdrop on these who have gone before. The writer to the Hebrews recognized the special value of their stories by including this great eleventh chapter. We can only imagine the taste of ambrosia and manna, but the stories are the stuff of real life.

They knew the promise. They held on because they had heard God promise that He has a city that is not of this world. Theirs was not a faith built upon dreams or fantasy. He promised; it was so.

They were strangers and exiles. This world was not their home. For all their opportunities for comfort, success, and more, they knew that this world was not all there is. The world to come was a reality greater than the illusions of grandeur here.

They knew God was the architect. The best they had experienced here was nothing in comparison with what God has designed. No advertisement—whether it be of extravagant luxury or enviable lifestyle–nothing earthly would compare with the City of God. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined—what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

They were bulwarks of truth. Their faith communicated truth, real and trustworthy truth. This world is not all there is; this world has fools’ gold; this world is corrupt and will be destroyed; this world will capture, dehumanize, destroy, and discard.

To be sure they also had trials of faith, times of doubt, and temptations to which they yielded. In vivid detail we read of all these in the Bible, and we know all the saints since then have the same tales. But by the grace of God they “endured to the end.”

We, too, face trials, doubt, and temptations. We, too, have shame and embarrassment for how we have dishonored God and hidden our testimony. As we strain to hear the stories of the saints who have gone before, we gather a bit more faith to believe, stronger courage to witness, and a clearer vision of the city God has prepared.

World Christian Trends 

The section on martyrology in this volume is truly extraordinary. In 40 pages, encyclopedia size, we read a list of martyrs and massacres beginning with year 33. Then the list of martyrs is given by country.

What follows is a random selection of martyrs, chosen for variety of eras and localities. These are people whose excitement and awe fill the conversations around the tables. From them, even from these very brief sketches, we can distill the signs of grace and hope that stayed alive in them, even as they faced death.

Aretas of Yemen, burned with monks and nuns in 427. The blood of the martyrs in that country has barely penetrated the soil. The harvest in this land remains small.

Wenceslas in Bohemia, the saint of the well-known carol, who gave his life for the Lord in 929. He left a legacy of kindness as well as clear faith in Christ.

Peter of Castelnau of Toulouse, France, the city where my French cousins live. Their faith is buoyed by the legacy of this martyr of 1208 and others who secured a stronghold of faith in this part of France.

Daniel of Belvedere from Morocco, a Franciscan monk who met his death in 1220. He was determined to show that to be a Moroccan can also mean to be Christian. That continues to be vehemently denied by the rulers there today.

Tamerlane’s brutality and massacres of hundreds of thousands of Christians between 1358 and 1401. No list carries their names, no plaques or saints days, but each one is known by name by our Lord, each one precious to Him. He has given each a white robe and a seat on the front row.

J. de Almasia of Paraguay martyred by the Agaces Indians in 1536, showing the centuries of resistance to establishing the church in the highlands and savannahs of Paraguay.

L. de Quiros, one of eight Jesuit priests killed in my native Virginia in 1571. I look forward to learning the good and the bad of the efforts to assist the Indian population to embrace the faith of the crucified Savior.

Donna Beatrice, one of the early martyrs of Sub-Saharan Africa, being burned at the stake in Congo in 1704. How many people will we meet who suffered for the faith, who brought many to the Lord, and who influenced generations that followed? We will meet many of these.

E. Trieu and J. Dat were two Vietnamese priests pioneering in Indonesia in 1773. Henry Lyman and Samuel Munson, sent out by the American Baptist missionaries to Sumatra, Indonesia. They met their death in 1834. Sumatra still has several large unreached groups there, the larger ones being Lampung and Komering. Blood of martyrs and prayer will one day bear fruit.

David Dapcha Lama, a Nepalese missionary in the earliest days of Christian witness in Nepal.  He gave his life in 1958 when there were so few Christians they could not be counted.

30,000 Igbo Christians massacred by Muslim mobs in Nigeria in 1966. The fervor for mission in Nigeria has not come without enormous cost.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a chapter of encouragement. The tales of the saints inspire faith, as well as awe and praise of God. The writer meant for us to eavesdrop, for from them we draw hope and strength as we prepare for our place at the table.

About Tad

This trip accompanies several of the friends of St. Paul. We will eaves drop on their correspondence, look into their lives and ministries, and find some insights about what they were doing. I suspect that much of what we see will surprise us, some will challenge us, and all will fill in some spots of God's work then and now.
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