August 29 marks the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist, decollation being a polite word for beheading.  It might seem strange for the Church to celebrate such an event, but it really is altogether fitting.  John is famous for preaching of the coming Kingdom, and calling for men to repent and be baptized, but considered his reknown to amount to very little in comparison to Christ.  John 3:30 stated, “He must increase, I must decrease”, a perfect description of John’s attitude and posture, when considering Jesus.  It’s also a call for us, to consider our own lives as little. 

As an individual who enjoys discussion of church culture, I can’t help but consider John’s idea of “downward mobility” when I think about the Church.  Today, the goal of the church is most often “church growth”…getting bigger and better (?) than the church down the road.  Wouldn’t the world look at churches differently if we were more humble, more serving, and thought less of ourselves?  To have that type of  approach would certainly be counter-cultural, in a society that measures individuals and institutions by their perceived “success”.

I  hope that you’ll enjoy the following  excerpt from a homily by St. Bede, also known as The Venerable Bede.  Bede stresses that John bore witness to Christ despite what the greater culture thought of him; that he stood for truth; that he baptized Jesus, and because of this, was eventually baptized in his own blood.  John knew that there was something better than what the world had to offer, and diminished his own agenda for the sake of telling others about Jesus.

Let us follow in John’s footsteps, and care little for our own promotion, in favor of promoting Christ, and by standing for truth in a world where the lines between truth and opinion are often blurred.

“As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendour of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.

 
There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.
Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

 
Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

 
Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

 

 

The Collect for the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist

O God, you called John the Baptist to be in birth and death the forerunner of your Son:  Grant that as John gave his life in witness to truth and righteousness, so we may fearlessly contend for the right, even unto the end; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Venerable Bede was the author of one of my favorite works, “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”.  If you’re a fan of Church history, or European history, it’s a must read.  The book can be read in its entirety by clicking on the link above, on the website Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

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