In a sermon on Palm Sunday (it's on our church website if you are very keen) I reflected that Jesus calls us to follow him and die. I was struck by this blog post from Joseph Black, and his reflection on success:
Western Christianity has no category for martyrdom. We are so oriented towards and seduced by our host culture’s worship of success that persecution and martyrdom would seem the opposite of achieving God’s ‘blessing’ on our ministries and on our lives.This is such a profound challenge that I haven't been able to walk away from it. What does it mean, and what would it mean, to lose our lives for Jesus?
Then last night, in a moment of confirmation or serendipity, I found myself watching the movie "Of Gods and Men". This trailer captures its essence well, although it is a little misleading in that it features the one isolated scene of violence, and makes it seem more action-packed than it is. It is a beautiful, slow, and heart-wrenching film, so much so that just watching the clips brings tears to the eyes after watching it.
In 1996 seven french Trappist monks were abducted from their monastery in Algeria and murdered. The identity of their killers and the exact motivation remains a source of controversy to this day. But what is clear is that they knew that their lives were at risk, and yet they chose to stay where they were, remaining faithful to their calling, as they saw it.
The film-makers didn't work from a specifically Christian perspective, but they have still given us a completely faithful picture of the life and vocation of the monks. But the film's real strength is the way in which it opens a window into that question of giving your life for Christ. The monks are shown as real people, with real doubts and conflicts, and yet answering to something beyond their own hopes and desires.
In the modern world very few Christians will actively seek martyrdom. Still, martyrdom will come to some if they faithfully follow Christ. This, suggests the film, is what happened to the monks of Tibhirine. Loving their life and their community, seeking peace and fearing violence, they somehow became convinced that they must remain and risk the appalling end that they eventually came to. In short, they followed their Lord to the cross.