The Christian Almanac records that on February 23rd, 303 A.D., the Roman Emperor Diocletian re-instituted a severe persecution of the Christian Church. Struggling to revitalize an empire that was beginning to pull apart under a number of political and economic factors, the emperor identified Christians as one of the greatest threats to the cohesion of the empire. This “movement” challenged the empire with its fundamental loyalties to the Lord Jesus. In the days and months that followed, Diocletian targeted leaders and writings, hoping to scatter the laity. Thus, many church leaders were dragged from their homes and meeting places and tortured to death. Christian books and Scriptures were burned. Nothing was deemed too harsh: the rack, the scourge, slow fires, crucifixion, and other barbarities were carried out against faithful Christian leaders. But this dark hour was the night before a remarkable new day for Christendom. Only ten years later Constantine would issue the Edict of Milan giving legal protection to the Christian faith.
As we celebrate the season of Lent, journeying with the Church to Easter, it is good to be reminded of those who literally suffered to the point of death in hope of resurrection, in hope of Easter. May God grant us strength and courage in our little “crosses” that we may obtain to the resurrection without any fear or shame.
The sermon text for this Sunday will be from Exodus 1. Our other lessons will be from Deuteronomy 26:5-10, Romans 10:8-13, and Luke 4:1-13.