St. John the Baptist has risen from the dead in Christ Jesus, in His Word and miraculous works. For both the baptizer and all the baptized have died and risen with Him who is our Head.
So it is that the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Word and His works, testify to your resurrection. And your life, in turn, now testifies to His fulfillment of the Law in faith and love, and to His completion of Holy Baptism by His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.
St. John’s preaching and his baptizing, his life and his death, all confess and point ahead to Christ the Crucified. His beheading is not simply an injustice on the part of Herod; nor is it an accident of fate, a punishment of God, or a failure of the divine will. It is the culmination of St. John’s holy and righteous work, according to the plan and foreknowledge of the Lord. As the Forerunner of the Christ, his suffering and his death precede and point to the Cross and Passion of the Lamb.
And as the baptizer is maligned and put to death, so are all those who are baptized into Christ Jesus. But such a death is one of repentance, unto the Resurrection and the Life that are in Him.
To that end, St. John the Baptist — in the spirit and power of Elijah — still goes before the Lord to prepare His way by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Therefore, whatever is not lawful in your life, put that sin to death, and die to that idolatry in you. Repent of all your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and begin to bear the fruits of repentance.
Where you are harboring grudges, whether against the Lord, His servants, or your neighbors in the world, repent of your hardness of heart, humble yourself under the Lord your 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 and damnation.
If you are sorry for what you have said or done, do not be afraid to apologize, to make amends, and to do better. Submit to the Word of the Lord, and trust Him to preserve your life, and even to raise you up 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, and by His catechesis and His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.
Do not simply listen to His Word as though to some kind of passing entertainment or amusement, but hear it and heed it as divine and certain Truth, and live by it in faith and love, patiently bearing the Cross in life and death. To be sure, the Cross of Christ is perplexing. But do not be afraid.
Is it not amazing that Herod was afraid of John, though he was held in Herod’s prison and subject to his whims? Whereas St. 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.
St. John sets a good and faithful example for you, as well, even if it does end in a gruesome death.
“But, how long, O Lord? How long?” Is that not the cry and prayer of your heart?
And are you not also sorely tried and tested in your own place — whether in a prison or a palace?
Yet, the Lord has given you a white robe in Holy Baptism, as He has done for Fredrick, Violet, Ruth, Benedict, and Philippa already this year. So has your Father clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, His beloved and well-pleasing Son. And He invites you to rest yourself here, to find your perfect peace and joy under the Holy Altar of the same Lord Jesus Christ.
This 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 Jesus, your Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.
It is to and from His Altar that you live — by the grace of God through faith in His Word.
Your life in Christ is truly a Sacramental and Eucharistic life. It is rooted in your Holy Baptism. It rests and resides at the Lord’s Table in the Holy Communion. It abounds in gratitude and gives thanks for the grace of God in the Liturgy of the Gospel. And all of this is eminently practical.
Just think of it! You have already died and risen with Christ Jesus by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism. So, then, what could Herod or anyone else really do to you?
And as your life is hidden with Christ in God under His Altar, your whole body and life are freely offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds you with His Body and His Blood.
These gifts of God in Christ are your confidence and courage in the face of all harm and danger.
And know this, that your life, your death, and your resurrection are precious to the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. 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 for His Gospel. That is no pun, it is the Truth. And so shall you rise in your body to live forever in glory with Him, immortal and imperishable, like unto Christ’s own glorious body.
In that same confidence, and with that same courage, love and serve and care for your neighbor’s body — in both life and death — in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body! Just as the disciples of St. John lovingly buried his body in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.
Bear in mind that, when you love and serve your neighbor in his or her body, you are loving and serving the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead for your salvation.
In such faith and love, the life that you live from your Baptism to and from the Altar is a proper and beautiful dance for the one true King. And He is pleased with you, not by sensual seduction, but because He regards you by His grace, according to the mercy and forgiveness of His Gospel.
Living your life as a long, slow, beautiful dance for your King, the Lord’s Anointed, Jesus Christ, take to heart His solemn oath and gracious promise, that He gives to you His Father’s Kingdom.
Even now, as a gift, guarantee, and pledge of that promised Kingdom, He who is the Head of St. 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, even as He thus lives and abides in you.
Dear baptized child of God, not only St. John but you also are risen from the dead in and with Christ the Crucified. And as He lives and reigns forever, so shall you live in both body and soul.
Even now, 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 shall be completed, openly declared before all of creation, and glorified in the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness abides forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.