Today marks the commemoration of St. John the Baptist’s martyrdom. This day, filled as it is with profound meaning for both the Baptist and his relationship to Our Lord, is found on many Anglican calendars throughout the Communion, but (curiously) is not to be found on the official Episcopal calendar. This omission undermines our understanding both of the Holy Forerunner and of the Church Year.
A collect for this day puts the focus on how St. John the Baptist and Christ are connected, not only in earthly terms, but spiritually:
O god, who didst vouchsafe to thy servant John the Baptist to be in birth and death the forerunner of thy Son; grant that, as he was slain for truth and righteousness, so we may contend for the same unto the end; for the love of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. John’s appearing was like lightening on the horizon: out of the distance there came among the people a force of nature itself, one who called all to repentance and preparation. With John, there is the urgency and forcefulness of a doctor’s visit when one is told the only way to avoid death is an immediate change of lifestyle.
Christ, too, appeared suddenly and mysteriously. He, too, began his ministry with a call to repentance. There was urgency—now mixed with a fuller call to justice, compassion, and mercy—in Jesus’ ministry.
In John’s death as well he was the forerunner to Christ. His ministry called him to speak the truth in the face of all earthly power. The religious leadership was divided and threatened by his ability to speak over them to the people. He died unjustly at the hands of the governing authority. He was a martyr for the Gospel before the Gospel itself was either written or even completed.
The above collect reminds us that we too are called to contend for that same truth and righteousness that marked St. John’s witness. To do so, of course, requires that we stay in deep communion with the Christ John heralded. Only this way will we be able to have the steadfastness, the courage, and the vision needed to remain faithful to God in our struggles—in life and in death—as did the Forerunner.
Holy John the Baptist, pray for us.