Thursday, January 12, 2023

A permanent mark. . .

Circumcision was a blessing and a bane to the Jew.  To be marked indelibly is always curse and gift.  The Jew remembered the covenant that gave him the status as a child of God but belonging to the Lord also meant being vulnerable to persecution and threat.  No one knew this more than the boys singled out for death by the Nazis.  There was no place to hide -- even for the nonobservant Jew.  It was a permanent mark, an indelible one.  There was no denial of the identity God had bestowed upon His people.

I have often wondered why God replaced a visible mark (circumcision) with an individual one (baptism).  Sometimes I have longed for a visible mark that would hold me accountable and not allow me to hide my identity as a child of God from the world.  I know that some (perhaps all) Coptic Christians tattoo a cross on their wrists as a permanent and visible mark that identifies them to each other and sets them apart from others.  The risk in this tattoo mark by which they can recognize each other and distinguish themselves from other Egyptians. Even though this also marks them for persecution, the mark remains.  For Egyptian Christians living among a Muslim majority, often unfriendly, this is no small risk.

To Coptic Christians, both past and the present, cross tattoos were and are never a mere sign of teenage rebellion or the choice of using the body as a canvas for self-expression. Rather, these tattoos serve as permanent reminders of their Christian faith, whether that may be used against them to ostracize or persecute.  In any case, this is of what their ancestors suffered to survive and of the suffering they will endure in their quest for survival.  It is not a decision of the adult to pay the price of their identity but this mark is done for the children as well.  The children were and are marked with a cross to signify in an outward way that they belong to Christianity and to Christ.

Of course, I realize that this can and sometimes does get in the way of the mark of Christ, the cross upon forehead and heart.  I realize that it is easy to put your trust in a symbol instead of the thing that is symbolized.  It happens all the time.  That said, I do wish it were not so easy to hide our identity by denial and with nothing external and permanent to contradict such denial.

We are just out of one of those times in the year when those who have absented themselves from God's House were welcomed back to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.  We accept them at their word and extend the right hand of fellowship no matter why they have come.  We do not ask them for any reason or even for an act of repentance signalling their contrition.  I am not saying we should not welcome them or make up a test of their commitment.  I am only remarking that absent an outward and visible symbol, our identity in Christ is left to words and actions, words and actions that can easily deny what God has done to save us and make us look as if we belonged not to Christ but to the world.

You know... I think... Maybe too much....

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