Even in death — especially in death! — St. John is still preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He is still proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and always pointing to Him. He is still preaching the Resurrection.
To preach this Baptism of Christ is dangerous and deadly; and to receive this Baptism and submit to it is likewise dangerous and deadly. First of all because it crucifies you, and cuts off your head, and buries you in the dust of the earth whence you were taken.
It exposes, accuses, and punishes your sin: your lust, your greed, your selfishness, your pride, your fear and doubt; the hardness of your heart; the grudges that you bear and harbor; the grasping of your hands, and the dark confusion of your head.
When St. John calls you to repentance, he isn’t playing games or offering “advice.” There is no hidden strategy or secret agenda. Wherever in your life there is sin, whether in your heart or hands or mouth — wherever you are sinning in thought, word or deed — Repent. Fear God. Turn away from evil. Do good.
Is it hard? Will it hurt?
That isn’t yet the half of it!
It is impossible, and it will kill you.
When St. John calls you to repent and points you to Christ Jesus, he bids you come and die.
The waters of your Holy Baptism are your grave, wherein you are buried with Christ the Crucified.
To share His Baptism is to share His Cross. So in this way, also, your Baptism is dangerous and deadly. The world will not love you, but hates you because of it. The powers of this world will not protect you, but will persecute you and put you in prison; they will put you to death, if and when they can, for the Name of Christ.
But if your Baptism crucifies you and puts you to death by way of repentance, it also lays the Cross of Christ upon your neck for the sake of faith and love.
What you suffer under His Cross is not pointless or meaningless, even if it all seems hopeless.
St. John could have supposed that his work was done, and that it had all been for nothing, when he was locked up in prison; when his beautiful feet were shackled and chained in a dungeon. But by the grace of God, through faith in Christ — did you hear it? — he kept on preaching.
Herod heard but did not heed the preaching of St. John. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Herod finally cut off his head and shut up his beautiful lips, St. John’s innocent suffering and death still preach Christ and Him Crucified, also here and now to you.
Do not shut your ears to St. John’s witness, and do not despair of your own vocation under the Cross.
Suffer patiently, as you are called to suffer (and to die), and serve faithfully, wherever you are called to serve, even if it be in a deep dark dungeon.
Do not despair, but believe the words and promises of God. For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.
Love and trust in Him who has lived and died and risen again for you; who died, and yet, behold, He lives; who was baptized for you, and crucified, dead, and buried for you, and who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity for you.
But, O Lord, how long? How long?
How long must you suffer and die, before you shall be vindicated and live?
In truth, It is finished. All has been accomplished and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, in His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan, in His Cross and Resurrection. Those who live and die by faith in Him, shall never die, but live with Him in His Kingdom in His everlasting righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness.
Your suffering and your death find their place, their meaning, their purpose, and their fulfillment in the Cup of Christ, the Cup of Blessing which we bless.
And you find your rest here under His Altar, under the shelter of His wings, in the Body of your Savior, in the Bosom of your dear God and Father.
Rest here, and be at peace, whether you live or die. You are the Lord’s. Your real life is hidden in Him and with Him, safe and secure forever and always.
Even now, His miraculous powers are at work in you: to cast out all your demons, to heal all your iniquities, to forgive all your trespasses, and to raise you from the death of your sin to life with Him.
It is all by the way of His Cross. Which also means, no less, that it is in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead, established for you by the power of His indestructible life.
For He has so identified Himself with you, and bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, and here at His Altar with His own holy Body and precious Blood, that as He lives, so shall you live forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.