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Hallo again to all.

The martyrdom of Thomas CranmerThis year 21 March marked the 450th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, architect of the Book of Common Prayer, diplomat, husband, father and theologian. The anniversary was observed in Britain and elsewhere as a religious milestone; it reminded us of our distance in time from the reformation, the significant influence of the reformation period in all Christian traditions still today, and of the jarring notion that death was then and can still be the consequence of refusal to deny conscientious religious opinions. (American Episcopalians commemorate Cranmer along with Ridley and Latimer on 16 October.) In a powerful and important sermon delivered this week, Cranmer's successor Rowan Williams notes that the requirements of faith in the truth of the incarnation ultimately led Cranmer to the chain of decisions that resulted in his acceptance of a public death:

It led Cranmer — as it led so many others in that nightmare age, as it led the martyrs of our own age, Bonhoeffer, Maria Skobtsova, Janani Luwum — to something more than a contemplative silence: to a real death. When we say that the word of God is not bound, we say that death itself can be the living speech of God, as the Word was uttered once and for all in the silence at the end of Good Friday. Cranmer speaks, not only in the controlled passion of those tight balances and repetitions in his Prayer Book, but in that chilling final quarter of an hour. He ran through the downpour to the town ditch and held out his right hand, his writing hand, for a final composition, a final liturgy. And, because the word of God is not bound, it is as if that hand in the flames becomes an icon of the right hand of Majesty stretched out to us for defence and mercy.

During the past week we have watched with trepidation the flurry of news stories about Afghan Christian Abdul Rahman, detained in Kabul and at this writing still held on charges of conversion to Christianity. Afghan law requires the execution of converts to Christianity from Islam, and we have feared the likelihood that Abdul Rahman would be forced into the same decision in 2006 that Cranmer made four and a half centuries ago. His calm in the face of this possibility is a common thread in every news report from The New York Times to Marianne and La Repubblica.

The differences between Cranmer's martyrdom and Abdul Rahman's arrest for conversion from Islam are too many to enumerate fully here. Yet they are both stark reminders of the costliness of Christian faith throughout much of history and in many parts of the world. They are both inspiring stories of the strength of a Christian's faith in adverse circumstances, and saddening examples of suffering for our faith. Both cases also underscore the extraordinary and oft-overlooked reality of complete religious freedom in modern democratic societies. None of us can remember a time when we knew legal or physical danger as a result of our baptism.

Abdul RahmanBoth the BBC and the Associated Press reported this afternoon that the court set to hear Abdul Rahman's case had dismissed the charges against him, and that he could be released from prison as early as Monday. Whilst it is too early to give thanks for Abdul Rahman's exoneration and freedom, we are already grateful that telecommunications have made it possible for much of the world to speak with one voice in opposition to his trial before it even began. Australia, Austria, Canada, the United States, the Vatican, Germany, Italy and many other countries have gone on almost immediate record to urge Abdul Rahman's fair treatment and release in accord with international norms of religious freedom. Never before have we seen an instance in which the body of Christ around the world has known in real time about a trial so likely to lead to martyrdom, or had the doctrine of the communion of saints been made so clear in quite this way. As Abdul Rahman suffers, we all do; in his strength, we are made stronger. In the event of his freedom, we pray, in the Archbishop of Canterbury's words, for 'the right hand of Majesty stretched out to him for defence and mercy' going forward.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 26 March 2006

(Update on Cynthia's cancer: some good news from her oncologist, but the chemotherapy plods on and she is learning to live without hair.)

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