Often the disciples are criticized for hiding out in fear on the first resurrection day. Yet we don’t hear that from Jesus. He knew the Holy Spirit had yet to come upon them, and He knew the climate in which they lived. The leader of their movement had just been arrested, tortured and executed and now His followers were understandably frightened. The book of Acts tells how, immediately after Pentecost, persecution began to increase dramatically and soon much of the church was forced underground. Many in today’s church have no concept of that level of persecution. Yet a great number of our brothers and sisters actually live under that black cloud. Thirty-five years ago, I traveled oversees for three weeks to meet with and encourage those who lived under the boot of religious oppression. Following Christ could cost you your job, your home, your family, your freedom or your life. Neighbors reported on one another. Gathering in groups was risky. Religious material was scarce. Once I attended a meeting in a forest, led by a pastor who had spent 25 years enduring harsh treatment in prison for his faith. Another time I met with Christians in a home where 10 or 15 gathered in a small apartment, all of us quietly arriving and leaving in staggered pairs. I remember knocking on a door late at night, hoping and praying we had found the correct address. I remember driving slowly down a street with the headlights off, then trying to suppress a cough as we quietly entered the unlit home. And I remember how relieved I was when I boarded the plane to fly home, and the guilt I felt for leaving my brothers and sisters behind.
We are so blessed to live where we do, and we have so much more to be thankful for than to complain about.
May our temporary limitations, due to a public health crisis, provoke us to pray for those who are restricted due to religious persecution. They are living out the resurrection in spite of harassment, in spite of the virus, and in spite of the fear. But it is a heavy cross to bear alone.
Denominations like to boast about their worldwide membership. Persecution is the daily reality of at least 100 million Christians around the world. Remember them this Easter.
“Continue to remember… those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”