“Christianos ad Leones”

*Posted by Kirk Spencer

Christianos ad Leones br

Christians for the Lions!
Chant from the crowd at gladiatorial games

From time to time, Ive happened upon a haunting imagean oil painting by Jean-Leon Gerome (1883) entitled Christian Martyrs Last Prayer. Maybe youve seen it. It shows a small group of Christians huddled together in prayer, on their knees, in the sand of the coliseum floor with a crowd of spectators waiting to be entertained by their bloody deaths. In the foreground, a lion approaches. The original is quite beautifully rendered. However, the times I have seen the image, it is usually a black and white photocopy with a phrase attached to make the point of how different the current church in America is from the first church. The image is usually accompanied by phrases like the True Church, or Real Prayer or The Prey at Prayer. This week, I saw it again. Here are the words attached this time: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. That statement attached to that image really captures what haunts me about the image. Living in my culture of convenience, I cannot even begin to imagine such a world of true conviction. It unmasks how very shallow my conviction has become. Can I even begin to understand what it means to know The fellowship of sharing in His sufferings. For the suffering we have brought on ourselves, God has taken upon Himself and then invites us to join Him by taking up our cross and following Him. Our pain has become Gods pain. And if we become like Him, we will bear the pain for/from others. It is certainly not a part of my culture of convenience (convenientia-harmony & conformity); but rather a reflection of a distant and remote culture of conviction.

In this context, I find a certain appropriate equivocation in the word conviction. Consider that we are made convicts (convicti-proof of guilt) by our inadequacies and thus face conviction. Yet God has provided a decisive victory (convincere) to overcome our conviction as convicts and in our conviction (unconquerable faith) in what God has done on the cross we can find His salvation. And, in finding God and following Him, we join Him in His pain which is really sharing the pain that belongs to others. I just might be able to understand such fellowship of sharing in His sufferings as part of my vita contemplativa in living the convenient life, but not in the vita activa. I live in a different world. And, when I contemplate the great cloud of witnesses (martyrs), I see them not as witnessing me in my race, but rather as witnessing to me, as they have to otherswitnessing with their very lives of this haunting type of suffering, a suffering that shows the reality of faith and eternal Love. And, if I let it, it gives a new perspective to my conviction, in both of its forms and, hopefully, will impact my actions. For, if I really could die for Him, I certainly can live for Him.


Gods Pain

I sing of such sweet sadness
Of those that clap and sing
Bathed in flame
The bonfire of saints who say
Come warm yourself with me
Their spirits rise in fervent heat
And fill the air with incense
Their flesh
As dross
Revealing the gold within
In those who count all
As loss
But Him

I sing of such sweet sadness
Of those with love their only weapon
Through tears for others they see
Not what their executioners are
But what they could be
They love those watching
Those with careless eyes
Those with nothing for which to die
For lifes whip
Lashes all together
The sinner and the saint both suffer
But to love without condition
Theres the difference
To save by death those that kill
They plead their executioners will
Join them at the stake
And know Gods pain
Sharing in the suffering of their Christ
Dying that others may know His life

I sing of such sweet sadness
Of those who loved the most
Those that kissed the whipping post
Those from whom the blind stole sight
Gods faithful quills that dye
Are, in their death
Most alive
Looking on things unseen
Fading from consciousness,
All but Him
And, in the end
We do them no real harm
For our hate has sent them home
Beyond the reach of pain
Where, in their blood
They sign their names
And bid the world good-night

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