Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Daniel 6) transports me back ten years to a desert highway near the ancient Babylonian city of Rutba in the early days of the United States’ ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. Leading up to the war, members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams traveled to the country, seeking to fulfill their mission of getting in the way. The phrase has a double meaning; on the one hand, as the earliest Christians were labeled People of the Way, referring to the Way of Jesus, CPT members are getting in the Way of Jesus by answering his call to be peacemakers. On the other hand, they are strategically trying to get in the way of warmongers, putting obstacles in the path of battle in hopes of interrupting the cycle of violence. CPT members go to the most dangerous of wartorn areas in the world, bearing witness to the Easter message that there is a force greater than the forces of death. They are fearless in the face of mortal danger, precisely because Christ demonstrated on Easter morning that death is not the end of the story. On this particular day, three days after the bombing began, several cars of peacemakers were on the highway when shrapnel hit one of the vehicles, injuring all three passengers. Some Iraqi passersby came to the rescue, rushing the wounded to a clinic in nearby Rutba. The hospital in Rutba had been destroyed 3 days earlier as a Special Forces Unit from Fort Campbell had mistaken it for a military target and bombed it. This did not deter the Muslim doctors from heroically acting to save the Christian peacemakers. Once the injured had sufficiently recovered to leave the clinic, they asked the doctor what they could do to repay him. Just tell people what’s happening in Rutba, he said. He wanted Americans to know the kind of people it was they were bombing.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams are certainly not the first to understand that there is a life force that defies the threat of death. They come from a long line of radical followers of the Way throughout church history. For that matter, Jesus was not the first to embody the defiant faith that tells us we need not fear death. Christ, too, came from a long line of peacemakers who defied the powers of violence and the threats of death. Perhaps the best illustration of the Easter story among Jewish people is the story of Daniel. Twice in this story, which also takes place in the deserts of Iraq (ancient Babylon), people of faith act to get in the way of the purveyors of oppressive power and violence. The three Hebrew children got in the way of the arrogant power claiming to be god, and rose from the death chamber of a fiery furnace. Here in today’s chapter, Daniel gets in the way of the oppressive power seeking to suppress all expressions of faith in the God of Life. For that, he is buried alive in what everyone anticipated would be his tomb, a pit filled with hungry lions. He, too, rose from that grave unscathed, as the jaws of death were transformed into jaws of life. These radical testimonies and actions on behalf of the power of life, the soul force greater than any violent force the armies of this world can muster, had quite an effect. They did interrupt the cycle of violence and oppression there in Babylon, as the king had the good sense to recognize and acknowledge that he was dealing with a force greater than his own.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was among the group of CPT members who had been on that caravan in 2003, and when he went to visit his fellow peacemakers in the clinic, he heard the doctor’s wish that they go back and tell the story. Jonathan took the request to heart, and when he returned to Durham, he and his wife and a fellow div school student started an intentional Christian community in one of the more challenged neighborhoods of Durham. They named the community Rutba House, a name that continues to prompt many people to ask what the name means, enabling him to tell the story. There at Rutba House, they continue to get in the Way, to trust enough in the power of resurrection life, in the power of Daniel and Shadrach and Meschach and Abednego, in the power of the risen Christ, that they defy the powers of death on a daily basis, interrupting cycles of addiction, discrimination, violence, materialism, and hopelessness. Christ is risen. Christ is risen in deed. Which means that all who demonstrate trust in the power of life over death through deeds of peacemaking in the face of militarism, sharing in the face of greed, welcome in the face of prejudice, are also risen. Indeed.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.