Thursday, June 24, 2010

Remembering the Saints

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, an event recorded with some detail and considerable significance in the Gospel according to Luke. John, the great Forerunner, is born – setting the stage for the Nativity of Our Lord. John is a truly pivotal figure in the Gospel. In him is summed up the prophetic lineage of the Old Testament, for he is the final prophet, “Elijah’s return,” and the herald of the Messiah to which the Old Testament points. So important is this day that it is ranked as a Feast of Our Lord.

But, there is more to it than that, of course. For he is also the “truth teller” who confronts the corrupt and immoral King Herod Antipas. In so doing, John falls afoul of the power politics of the sadistic and doomed court. It is for this witness to the truth that he ultimately dies. Yet, God’s power was revealed in his human weakness; the Divine Judgment was made known even as unjust judges wielded their arrogant and passing scepters. Through it all, John was clear about who was the message, and who was the messenger: “God must increase while I must decrease.” Would that the Church’s current leadership had such clarity when it speaks glibly about having a “prophetic” ministry without understanding the cost of such witness.

From the beginning, the Church has held St. John the Baptist in high regard. He is a significant figure in all four canonical Gospels, and is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament and Josephus. His ministry left a profound mark on his era.

He has come to mean many things to different eras: prophet, herald of the Gospel, preacher, ascetic, righteous critic of injustice, patron of the “angelic” life of monasticism – and more. Under all of this, however, our remembrance of St. John is really about the fact that in him the Gospel was manifested; in his life, the power of God was revealed and lived. People were confronted with the Truth of God. This forerunner of Christ burned brightly with the reflected glory of the Messiah.

And so it is with all the saints of God: in them, Christ is present and active. This sense of "presence" is essential. The saints are not "demigods." They are participants in the Life of Christ -- something open to all Christians. At each Eucharist we recall Christ's words to the Church, eternally new: "Do this in remembrance of me." That Greek word for "remembrance" -- anamnesis -- carries with it the understanding that to remember is to make present

The saints show forth the living presence of Christ in every time and nation. Each feast day in the Church Year is a reconnection with the One Great Feast of Victory in Christ, feast begun at the first Easter, ongoing in each celebration of the Holy  Eucharist, in the lives of God's people, and to be consummated at "the Last Great Day" at the end of the ages. Their calling is our calling, as well. Their glory is a foretaste of ours with them in the presence of the Holy Trinity forever and ever.

The Collect for the Feast of St. John the Baptist

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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