Daily Office Lections: Amos 9:1-10; Revelation 2:8-17; Matthew 23:13-26
"These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive" (Rev. 2:8).
Jesus, with John serving as his amanuensis, begins his letter to the persecuted church at Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) by reminding them that he is the Crucified and Risen One, that he has conquered death, and that they, too, will conquer death in and through him.
St. Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John and bishop of Smyrna, "faithful unto death" (v.10) and, therefore, received the "crown of life" (think of a victor's wreath). He was martyred in 156AD having served the Lord faithfully for 86 years.
One of the lines that strikes me from today's epistle is when the Lord says to them: "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)." They are poor in this age, but rich in the age to come; poor in Caesar's eyes but rich in the eyes of the Caesar above all caesars. They are rich because Christ is with them and in them. They do not suffer alone or meaninglessly. They suffer on account of Christ (and with Christ!), for the sake of theirs souls, and for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Their hope is in Christ. And our hope must be in Christ, that just as he was raised from the dead on the third day, so will we be raised in glory at the Last Day. Hope of being with Christ, in an age where there is no more pain, suffering, and death -- that hope sustains in this present age which is marked by those very things.
The church at Pergamum is also suffering. Antipas (mentioned in verse 13) was martyred. According to tradition, Antipas, bishop of Pergamum, was martyred in 92 AD. However, certain members of the church there had fallen into sin and error. Christ calls them, as it were, to cast off the works of darkness.
And that's what we are called to. Though we are not suffering persecution, we should prepare our souls for it, meaning, that we should be ready to follow Christ no matter the cost. And, if we have fallen into the idolatry, around us we must, especially amidst this penitential season, heed the words of coming King who says: "Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (v. 16).