News of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s death sentence, handed down by an Iranian court as the penalty for apostasy from Islam, came at an interesting time; i.e. yesterday. For those of you who do not follow a liturgical calendar, yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. It is a time of preparation for Easter and involves a focus on denying oneself and looking to the cross, even as we take up our own.
Speaking with my mother on the phone yesterday evening about this very thing, she made an observation worth sharing. As I was filling her in on Pastor Nadarkhani’s situation, she made the point that she went to fill up her car with gas yesterday. This of course involved standing outside her vehicle, and interacting with fellow filler-uppers. That probably doesn’t seem significant, until you realize that, in certain congregations, it is the standard practice to place ashes in the sign of the cross upon the foreheads of those attending “Ash” Wednesday services. The congregation she attends in my hometown is one of these, and she had just come from there when she was filling up.
Isn’t it something, then, that she could stand in public with a cross on her forehead, marking her as belonging to Christ, and not for a moment have to be afraid for her life? Especially when so many of our brothers and sisters around the world have to meet in secret lest they be executed for adhering to the faith, like our brother Youcef? We are blessed indeed.
And, in keeping with Matthew 5:10-12, so is Pastor Nadarkhani.
Remember the persecuted saints in your prayers, this Lenten season and always!