Today is the day we commemorate Bishop Hugh Latimer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, reformers and martyrs of the English Church.
Some years ago I had the enormous privilege of studying in Oxford for a brief period of time and I lived not far from the landmark you see above. It marks the location where Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burned at the stake. I spent a lot of time, actually, standing on the sidewalk and gazing toward this cross in meditation. It was powerful to tune in to what had happened at this spot. It grieves me that we Christians have such a violent and bloody history - that we justify killing other people of faith in the name of faith. Yes, I know. It was really treason. Still.
Here's a quotation from a sermon by The Rev. Tobias Stanislas Haller for this day:
For whoever was right or wrong in their theology -- and how many of the questions so hotly debated in those days, and capable of bringing one to the stake, are of much importance either in the light of history or of the Gospel? -- surely it was the church that suffered in this. This was no watering with the blood of martyrs, witnessing to the faith in and of Christ. No, this was theological intransigence armed with the power of the state.Just look at this again: "...tolerance itself may be the ultimate touchstone of religious truth: and the willingness to persecute or kill others because their religious belief differs from one's own may be the surest sign of error."
And isn't that why and how Christ himself died? As he told the disciples, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." The tragedy is that "they" were true believers too. The pious and righteous religious leaders thought they had cause to bring Jesus to trial, but they were wrong -- as religious leaders so often seem to be. The lesson in all of this is that tolerance itself may be the ultimate touchstone of religious truth: and the willingness to persecute or kill others because their religious belief differs from one's own may be the surest sign of error. For hatred is not the sign of God's presence. Above all, to see and yet reject the signs of grace in those with whom one disagrees is to reject the source of that grace.
Let us ponder these words. Let us ponder them deeply.
Let me be very clear about this: I am not posting today as an Anglican grieving that Anglicans were martyred by Roman Catholics because the situation was reversed many times during that violent period of our history. I'm rather posting as a Christian grieving that Christians were martyred by Christians. It's never "us and them" dear people. It's all "us". It's all, always, us.