‘And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:‘I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
These days the BBC seems to be criticised from every direction. Whatever your view about a topic, you can guarantee that before too long, there will be criticism that the BBC has over represented the other point-of-view. Perhaps that means that they might be getting the balance right much of the time, but it does lead to situations where someone advocating something believed by almost no-one can be given equal airtime to someone advocating something believed by almost everyone, in the interests of ‘balance’. It is, then, a good job that the BBC were not around to report on these letters – what’s said about Smyrna is anything but balanced in how it reports relationships between Jews and Christians!
In this passage the writer is reassuring a small, struggling, church that is subject to persecution. It is quite true that the church in the west is facing an uphill battle against the combined enemies of suspicion, secularisation, and apathy, which between them make the Christian task very hard sometimes. However, when a prominent Christian appears in the media to claim that we’re persecuted for being Christians here in the UK, I think they’ve probably lost touch with reality. Christians are really being persecuted in Iraq and Syria, in ways that are simply barbaric.
So, if you’re having a hard time, if you’re finding things difficult, spare a thought and a prayer for Christians in other countries who are facing things far worse than we are, and remember the reassurance that Christ is with all his people, we can do far more with him and for him than we can do alone.
May God the provider of green pastures and quiet waters
be the peace in our hearts today.
May Jesus our guide on mountain top and valley deep
be the hope in our hearts today.
May the Spirit of truth and knowledge, comforter and friend,
be the strength in our hearts today
Loving heavenly Father,
your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In his resurrection he restores life and peace in all creation. Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance
and those oppressed by their fellow humans.
Remember in your kingdom those who have died.
Lead the oppressors towards compassion
and give hope to the suffering.
May all for whom we pray be filled
with the strength and reassurance of your Spirit.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is the Minister of Farnham and Elstead URCs in Surrey.