Today in the life of the church we celebrate the life, witness, and ministry of Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr of Carthage who was executed in 258 A.D.
Cyprian’s story is an interesting one in that it involves a controversy that the early church faced quite often before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The controversy was this: being Christian in Cyprian’s day meant that you dealt with persecutions…and those persecutions created a conundrum for the early church: What do we do with those who renounced the Christian faith in order to NOT be put to death during these times of persecution?
What does a religion do with those who have professed the faith, practiced the faith, then, instead of following the example of the head of the faith and dying for their faith, decide to renounce what they believe in order to continue living. What do you do with Christians who denied the faith under duress? Not an easy question. Especially for Cyprian who, one year after being made Bishop of Carthage, went into hiding during the persecutions under the Emperor Decius. This question of what to do with lapsed Christians would be one the church would wrestle with for several hundred years.
Cyprian held that the lapsed should be welcomed back and be received into full communion with the church after a period of probation and penance.
The gospel passage assigned to Cyprian’s feast day is John 10:11-16 (“I am the good shepherd”). What I find as good and true about this pairing of this lesson with Cyprian, given his life and ministry and especially his going into hiding, is that Jesus in this passage calls those sheep who are already in the fold, and those who are outside of the fold. In the end, all of the sheep are called by Jesus, and all come because they know his voice, and he knows them.
Mercifully, I doubt that hardly any of the readers of The Daily Cup have been persecuted for their being Christian, however we may feel like we have lapsed, moved away from our faith. The good news for us is that when we feel separated from God, or we feel at odds with our faith, or when maybe we don’t even feel like going to church Jesus is still calling to us, drawing us to him, always, always.
In Christ’s name,