29 August 2008

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Herod celebrates his birthday with a grand party, but he’s a dead man: dead in his trespasses and sin.

St. John the Baptist goes from the frying pan into the fire; from the dungeon to the chopping block and martyrdom, but he is raised, and he lives with Christ Jesus.

Those are your options, too. It’s a matter of life or death. You have no true or lasting life except in Christ Jesus. It is only in His Resurrection from the dead that you rise; so it is only by His Cross that you have life. It is by sharing His death and losing your own life that you share His Resurrection and His life.

That is what your Holy Baptism has granted, and that is what your Baptism still means for you each day. You are put to death in order to be raised. Your own head is removed, that Christ may be your Head, your Bridegroom and Lord. Your body is buried with Him through Baptism into His death, in order that you may belong to His Body, the Church.

That’s what discipleship looks like: crucifixion or beheading, but, either way, death and burial. Those who baptize, and those who are baptized, are put to death for the Name of Christ. Those who are sent to Minister in His Name, and those who receive that Ministry, are under the Cross.

It is by that Cross of Christ that you are raised with Him and live with Him forever.

As you suffer that Cross, therefore, do not despair.

As you are shut up in prison, or shut out from the crowd, or otherwise left alone and lonely, lift up your head, your heart and mind to Christ. Hear and heed His Word of the Gospel, and know that He delivers you from death.

As you have your head chopped off, whether metaphorically or bodily, find your rest and peace in Christ Jesus. Though you are despised and rejected by the world, you are righteous and holy by faith in Him.

Live, therefore, in the righteousness and holiness of Christ. Live by faith, by the hearing of His Word.

Do not seek to shut up or shut out the Word of the Lord, nor keep it at arm’s length, as though it were under your control. If you are perplexed by the preaching of repentance, do not harden your heart, but repent; confess your sin, and be forgiven.

Do not continue in your sins, which are a living death. It is neither lawful nor safe to go on sinning. Do not suppose that you shall escape the consequences. They will come back to haunt you.

Do not harbor envy and jealousy, nor bitterness and resentment, in your heart against your neighbor. Do not let the sun go down on your anger, but, for Christ’s sake, be reconciled to your neighbor (by the way of repentance and forgiveness). For whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and the life and love of God are not in him.

Do not entertain the lust of the flesh, whether with your eyes, your imagination, or your body. Whoever looks upon a woman or a man with lust is already an adulterer. Such covetous lust conceives and gives birth to sin, which grows fully into death.

For all such hatred and adultery in your heart and mind, repent.

Turn away from evil, and do what is lawful, what is good and right.

Do not be afraid to do the right thing, as though, if you did not line your own pockets and pad your own treasure chest, the Lord would let you die. You have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. But if you live in sin, then only death shall be your lot.

Do what you are given to do with confidence. Be strong and courageous. The Lord is with you like a dread Champion. If you share His death, so shall you share His Resurrection and His life. Whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

If you are sorry for what you have done or left undone, do not despair, but repent, and do better. Not as though you will save yourself or set things right by your own righteousness and holiness, but because Christ has died and risen. He has saved you. His righteousness and holiness are yours. He so identifies Himself with you, that He has risen in you and lives in you; He manifests Himself and His life in you.

You need not dance for this true King, nor seduce Him. For He has redeemed you with His own holy, precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death; that you should be an heir with Him of His Kingdom (not half, but the whole thing).

Here, then, is the Supper that He hosts, in proclamation of His death until He comes: not for the high and mighty of the world, but for the weak and lowly and despised.

Recline here at His Table with Him, and receive from His hand His Body given, His Blood poured out, for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. Where there is such forgiveness, death cannot hurt you.

Rest here under His altar, until all things come to pass and all His promises are fully realized, just as He has spoken. You shall not die, but live; just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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