30 August 2010

The Feast of the Beheading of St. John

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

John the Baptist has risen from the dead — in Christ Jesus, in His Word and miraculous works. For the baptizer, as well as all the baptized, has both died and risen with Him who is our Head.

So do the Lord’s life, His Word and works testify to your resurrection. And your life testifies to His Cross and Resurrection: to His fulfillment of the Law in faith and love, and to His completion of Holy Baptism in repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

St. John’s preaching and his baptizing, his life and his death, all confess and point ahead to Christ, the Crucified. His death is neither an accident, nor a punishment or failure, but the culmination of his holy and righteous work. As the Forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, his passion and death precede that of the Lamb to whom he points.

And if the baptizer is so maligned and put to death, so are the baptized who die with Christ Jesus. But such a death is repentance, unto resurrection, and as Christ Jesus lives, so do you.

St. John the Baptist, in the spirit and power of Elijah, still goes before the Lord to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance.

Therefore, whatever is not lawful in your life, put that to death in you, and die to that. Repent, and bear the fruits of repentance.

Where you are harboring grudges, whether against the Lord, His servants, or your neighbor, repent of your sinful hardness of heart, humble yourself under God, and forgive, as you are forgiven. Be reconciled to God and man in Christ Jesus, lest the sin that is crouching at the door of your heart devour your body and soul in death.

If you are sorry for what you have said or done, do not be afraid to make amends and do better. Submit to the Word of the Lord, and trust Him to preserve your life, to vindicate and raise you, even from death and the grave. Whether you suffer the consequences of your own sins, or suffer the sins of others against you, do not doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, who loves you and who saves you by His grace, by His own innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, by His catechesis and His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Do not simply listen to His Word as some kind of passing entertainment or amusement, but hear it and heed it as the truth, and live by it in faith and love, in life and death, patiently bearing the Cross.

Surely the Cross of Christ is perplexing, but do not be afraid.

Is it not amazing that Herod was afraid of John, locked up in Herod’s prison and subject to his whims? Whereas John, however fearful or discouraged his mortal flesh may have been, had the courage, peace and confidence to continue preaching, even in prison, even unto death.

That is a faithful example for you, even if it does end in beheading, in death (or precisely so!).

But, how long, O Lord? How long?

Are you not tempted and tested in your own place — whether in a prison or a palace?

Yet, the Lord has given you a white robe in your Baptism. He has clothed you in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. And He invites you to rest here, to be at peace, under the Altar of the same Lord Jesus Christ. Here is where your heart and soul recline in safety, even while your body labors in love, and suffers for the sake of love, for the sake of the truth, for the sake of the Gospel. For here your body also finds its Sabbath Rest, reclines, and eats and drinks in peace, in the forgiveness, life and salvation of Christ.

It is to and from this Altar that you live.

Your life in Christ is truly Sacramental. It is rooted in Holy Baptism. It reclines at the Lord’s Table in the Holy Communion. And such things are eminently practical.

You have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism.
So what could Herod or anyone else do to you?

And as your life is hidden with Christ in God, under His Altar, your life on earth is Eucharistic, that is, a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds you from His Altar by His grace.

That is your confidence and courage.

And know this, that your life, your death, and your resurrection are precious to Him. You are precious and pleasing to Him, because you are robed in Christ, and you are in Christ, and Christ Himself is in you, and with you, and for you.

He is your Head, truly, as He is the Head of His Body the Church. And as your Head has gone before you, through death and the grave, into life everlasting, you can even “lose your head” for Him and His Gospel (that is no pun, but the truth). And you shall rise in your body to live forever in glory with Him, immortal and imperishable, like unto Christ’s own glorious body.

By the same token, and for the same reason, love and care for your neighbor’s body (in life and in death), in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body! As the disciples of St. John lovingly buried his body.

When you love your neighbor in his or her body, you are loving and serving the body of Christ, the body that is risen and glorified in Him.

In such faith and love, the life that you live from your Baptism to and from the Altar is a proper sort of dance for the true King, and He is pleased with you, not by seduction, but by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

Living your life as a long slow beautiful dance for your King, the Lord’s Anointed, Christ Jesus, hear His solemn oath and gracious promise to you, that He gives to you His Father’s Kingdom.

And as a gift, guarantee and pledge of that, He who is the Head of John the Baptist gives to you His Body on a silver platter and pours out for you His Blood from a silver chalice, that you might live and abide in Him, as He lives and abides in you.

Dear child of God, baptized into Christ, in Him, not only St. John, but you are risen from the dead in and with Christ the Crucified.

Now, then, find your rest and be at peace here under His Altar, until you are vindicated in the final judgment when the full number of the baptized is completed.

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

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