Today we got to sing my favourite hymn: 'For all the saints, who from their labours rest' (Note to NOK: I'll have this at my funeral, please.)It captures the spirit of Hebrews 11 in which the writer rehearses a long list of godly people who kept the faith even at the expense of their own death. I am always humbled and moved by that passage and by the hymn as I consider how many faithful people have followed their Lord Jesus Christ all the way, from Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna who, when faced with the choice of recanting or death by burning, replied that he had faithfully served his Lord for 80 years and how could he desert him now. Or William Tyndale assassinated on the orders of Henry VIII because he wanted Englishmen to be able to read the bible in their own language, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Maximilian Kolbe killed by the Nazis, or Janani Luwum killed on Idi Amin's orders for defying that Uganda tyrant. The list goes on and on.
The hymn describes the fierce spiritual warfare God's people often face, but also sounds a note of hope of a better day.
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array:
the King of glory passes on his way.
This isn't a vain hope, but a strong hope in the risen Lord Jesus Christ, the 'author and perfecter of our faith'. That's the hope that kept faithful persecuted Christians going in the past, and it's the same hope that keeps us and many persecuted Christians going today. Christians in Pakistan whose churches are burned down, or in Orissa in India set upon by militant Hindu mobs, or in Burma forced by state opposition to meet in seccret in the jungle, or in Egypt discriminated against by the state, or in North Korea imprisoned by a state that has tried to make the word 'God' illegal. I think of them when I sing
The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.