By the Waters of Babylon –Ps 137:1
It was either a bold gesture of courage or an act of supreme foolishness. The occasion was the state funeral of Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union.
For days and nights, the mourners had been filing by his open casket solemnly. First were the ordinary citizens, the party functionaries, then generals, ambassadors, and members of the Politburo. Lastly, the heads of foreign states were taken through. All had come to pay respects to a man who, if not actually loved, had been widely feared.
In the end, Brezhnev’s widow came through. An honor guard of elite soldiers in full-dress uniform stepped crisply forward. They stood at attention, ready to close the casket ceremonially. The eyes of all were on Madame Brezhnev as she stood in silent reflection.
The widow made as to move on, and the soldiers reached out to close the coffin lid. At the last possible moment, Madame Brezhnev darted back and did an extraordinary thing. She made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest!
There in the citadel of official state atheism, the wife of the man who had run that godless bureaucracy said, in effect, that she hoped he was wrong. It was possibly, one of the most daring – and profound – acts of civil disobedience ever committed.
All this took place about two thousand years after an itinerant Galilean staggered down a Jerusalem road, the weight of a cross upon his back. That the sign of the cross, so significantly, would be traced by the widow of a head of state upon her husband’s chest, many miles and centuries removed, is eloquent testimony to the enduring influence of this man, Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection.