On Sunday, we will remember this church’s own connection to martyrdom through the powerful witness of May Hayman and the other New Guinea Martyrs.
Christians have always taken a strong interest in martyrdom, and not just because of a perverse obsession with death. It’s more due to the dramatic manner in which our Lord gave his life.
In the course of Christian history many have followed in his footsteps in a way that has often given powerful testimony to the hope we share.
While it’s increasingly fashionable to characterise the church as a force of oppression and violence, the simple truth is that the number of Christians who have been killed for their faith (estimated at about 70 million) dwarfs the numbers who have ever attempted to kill for it. According to some estimates, even today a Christian is killed for their faith in Christ approximately every 5 minutes.
As we reflect on the history (and present reality) of Christian martyrdom, there are at least three truths of which to be reminded.
Life is a precious gift – and is not to be treated lightly or casually thrown away. Martyrdom is sometimes to be accepted, but never to be sought. Death should not simply be an escape from this life. It is also, legitimately, an occasion for grief and mourning.
Life is a precious gift – but is not to be clung to desperately, as if there is nothing more. The gospel is good news for the dying, not just the living. The promise of eternal life and the hope of resurrection change our perspective, enabling the Christian to live life fully without clinging to life anxiously. Our earthly life is important, but it is not all-important.
Life is a precious gift – but is a gift to be spent for God and for the world. Longevity on its own is not a very satisfactory goal. We are called to be generous and centred on others. And just as our lives can bring great blessing to others, so too the hope and confidence with which we face death can form a very powerful part of our legacy.
As we remember the testimony of May Hayman, let us also follow her example by living for others, and not treating our own lives as ultimate.