In life and in death

June 1, 2013

Photo by Erin Dunigan

  1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
  1. That I am not my own,1
    but belong—
       body and soul,
       in life and in death—2
    to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

       He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4
       and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5
       He also watches over me in such a way6
       that not a hair can fall from my head
       without the will of my Father in heaven;7
       in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

    Because I belong to him,
    Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
    assures me of eternal life9
    and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
    from now on to live for him.10 (Q/A 1 from the proposed new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism)

From mid-April to the end of May, I have traveled 30,000 miles from New Jersey to Chicago, Texas, the Philippines, Lebanon, Egypt, Scotland, California, and at last back home. Throughout my travels, I’ve been focused on the nature and purpose of the church, the question of identity. Why have we been called together—1.9 million followers of Jesus Christ—to be in relationship with billions of Christians here and around the world, and yet still in relationship with billions of people who are inhabitants on planet Earth?

I set up a race with some children from the Jlala Refugee Camp in the  Boukaa Valley, Lebanon

I set up a race with some children from the Jlala Refugee Camp in the Boukaa Valley, Lebanon —photo by Erin Dunigan

In the midst of these trips, I briefly visited my paternal grandparents in the Philippines, my parents in Guam, and the gravesite of my late maternal grandmother. These times of being with family—the ones living and the ones who are part of the communion of saints—brought to my heart and mind the identity questions of who I am, why I am here, and towards what end(s) my life is directed. Generation after generation is called by God to live for Christ, and to give witness to God’s generous love.

Being among our sisters and brothers in Lebanon and Egypt directed my heart and mind toward what our life and faith are all about: putting our whole self on the line. Faced with a growing conflict with no end in sight—with a dangerous recipe of radical Islamist fighters in Syria wreaking devastation and bringing to near extinction the Christian minority communities that have either been killed or forced to flee to neighboring Lebanon—our partner church, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) has been called to a bold witness. The NESSL has put considerable resources into assisting 400 families with homes and food in addition to the educational ministries they already provide for Christian and Muslim communities. Nearly 1 million Syrian refugees have found shelter in Lebanon, overwhelming that country’s infrastructure and straining relationships. In one such refugee camp, 45 families take shelter in tents with no air conditioning or heating.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood party and President Morsi provide little or no provision for slum communities or for Christian communities when street fighting among religious groups erupts. A recent example was the bombing at the St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which spurred a dangerous conflict of thugs against Christians, where everything was placed on the line. The bloody conflict left hundreds seeking triage at the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, the largest Presbyterian evangelical church of the Synod of the Nile and in the Middle East. We visited a new church development that is providing health and basic services to their community while they secretly build a sanctuary, under threat of arrest and fines.

Forecourt of the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo near Tahir Square. This was used as a receiving spot, where hundreds were given triage during the bloody conflict  at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral last month

Forecourt of the Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo near Tahir Square. This was used as a receiving spot, where hundreds were given triage during the bloody conflict at St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral last month —photo by Erin Dunigan

We in the West need a constant dose of the power of the Holy Spirit, who prods and prompts us to put on the line life and limb, body and soul, heart and strength—even to the point of losing our life—for the sake and the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Heidelberg Catechism instructs and reminds us what is at stake: it’s about the life of God in Christ through the Spirit, who makes us wholeheartedly ready and willing to live for God, because whether in life or in death, we already belong to Jesus Christ our faithful Savior.

And so we are called to put everything on the line, even at the risk of losing ourselves. For in that loss is the gain of discovering—with fresh love and renewed grace—who we are and whose we are.

Browse more photos from the Moderator’s delegation trip to Lebanon and Egypt—with our partner churches, the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt (Synod of the Nile).

  1. Thank you Neal! A stirring reflection on how the present day realities of followers of Christ worldwide offer deep insights into the brilliance of the Heidelberg Catechism.

    by Gary Van Brocklin

    June 3, 2013

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