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Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your  creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives,and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Bio:  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

When I was at  Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee (now Concordia University, Mequon Wisconsin), I took the one credit course on Lutheran Hymnody.   Professor “Ollie” Ruprecht pointed out that Bach’s library had around 80 volumes in it. Prof. Rupprecht pointed out that books were quite expensive and about 60  of those volumes were books of orthodox Lutheran theology.  Orthodox Lutheran theology is all about proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God.  And so did Bach through music in the beauty of holiness.

One of Bach’s most marked set of volumes was Abraham Calov’s 3 book set of Luther’s Bible, with Calov’s commentary.  Bach, spending a large part of a year’s salary, purchased a 7 volume edition of Luther’s writings which Calov has based his commentary.  Calov wrote regarding Luther:

“It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear.”

Bach double-marked that sentence for emphasis (Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines).  We need to double-mark that quote today.  

That sentence also sums up Bach’s understanding of music.  He would mark on his scores AMG, ad mairorem Dei, to the greater glory of God. He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany. After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  Bach’s music still preaches.Bach’s texts usually were the Bible as he put the Scripture to music. This is true Christian music.

In his day, the Enlightenment, ‘modern’ music was suppose to reflect how the composer felt and what the people wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?  On NPR, they will have a segment that I call OMS, the obscure musical segment when the artist intros his/her work and tells us what “he is trying to do”, or what he was feeling at the time of composition. Not for J. S. Bach:  it was to proclaim the Gospel which is the sheer beauty of the Lord. Bach did not listen to what people wanted, but what he heard was the Lord’s commands and promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and he knew the Lord’s second best gift, music.  “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther).   Bach’s talent at the organ and as a composer was wanted by the Church and he was not popular in the courts of public taste, but being popular in the world is never the goal, Christ is.

Only two of Bach’s works were ever published in his life time. In the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received.The Word of the Lord endures forever and the Lord gave Johann a gift that he did use to His greater glory  and the joy of the Church, which is always,  “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons about classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach’”. We also can say, Ahhh, Bach! And better:  thank you Lord for music!

Thank-you Lord for Bach and all church organists, choir directors, choirs and musicians who also through music, especially Bach’s, proclaim the eternal Gospel. Open the ears and hearts of church councils, parish councils and sessions to pay their organists well as they lead Your holy people in the Divine Service.  Amen.

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Gracious Lord, in every age You have sent men and women who have given their lives for the message of  Your Gospel and all the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.  Inspire us with the memory of those martyrs for the Gospel, like Your servant Lawrence, whose faithfulness led them to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to Your Son’s victory over sin and death, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

About Lawrence:  Early in the third century AD, Lawrence, most likely from Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage Church property and finances. The emperor at the time, who thought that the Church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lawrence to produce the ‘treasures of the Church.’ According to tradition,  Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year AD 258 by being roasted on a gridiron. His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young Church because he was a Roman citizen tortured and executed by Roman authorities.  Almost immediately, the date of this death, August 10, became a permanent fixture on the early commemorative calendar of the Church.  (adapted fromThe Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH).

The particular persecution that led to Lawrence’s execution began in anno Domini 257:

“…the Roman emperor Valerian began a vigorous persecution of the church, aimed primarily at the clergy and laity of the upper classes. All of the properties of the church were confiscated and assemblies for worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258 the Bishop of Rome, Sixtus II who had just become bishop the year before, and his deacons were apprehended at the cemetery of Callistus where they were celebrating the liturgy, and all except Lawrence were summarily executed and buried in the same cemetery…Lawrence, who knew of the location of the Church’s treasure, was tortured and then executed on August 10. (Festivals and Commemorations by Pr. Philip Pfatteicher)

Reflection:   Deacon Lawrence knew the location of the Church’s treasure! He knew exactly where it was as in the old pirate maps: when X marks the spot, that is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  He knew that the treasures of Christ’s grace is for the  poor, the lame, the orphans and the widows, for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that is, the poor in spirit.   In the midst of Watergate in the 70s, Bob Woodward was told by his informant, “to follow the money”.  All of the world follows the money.  Lawrence did not “follow the money”: he followed His Lord and yours.  As a steward of Jesus Christ, His deacon, Lawrence maintained earthly treasure probably well but gold does not make the Church, only the blood of Christ makes the Church.  The Emperor lived under the Roman equivalent of the dollar sign.  Lawrence and “the communion of saints” live eternally under the sign of the Cross.

When the Church and her Christians think the true treasures of the church are in the offering plates/big budgets  or our “creative ministries” or our programs, and not the Cross and Sacraments, Scripture and Service in His love, then,

“…we are in danger of losing the things that make the Church in favor of those who claim to make the Church.  Church leaders only gain legitimacy when they are the delivery point of the divine gifts.” (Pr. Murray, A Year with the Church Fathers, CPH)  

Lawrence and many others so delivered the divine gifts and were delivered up as martyrs and their witness heartens us.

The Commemoration of St. Lawrence is our time quite timely, to say the least, given the martyrdoms that have occurred and are happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.  It is hard to contemplate Lawrence being killed by being roasted live on fire.  No longer. Two years ago  a 5 year old boy being cut in half by ISIS.   Since then, the martyrdoms, including crucifixions of Christian children,  have gone apace with no let up. We hear in the media that ISIS is full of anger and hatred…but are they?

Were the Nazis full of hatred and anger when they murdered 6 million Jews and 5 milion Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals and Christians?  Probably at one time…but eventually it all became rational political policy.   In a seminary seminar course on the Holocaust we studied the fact that initially the Nazis  took Jews in train cars to isolated areas and then gunned them down burying them in mass graves. The Nazi State soon realized this was using too much ammunition, time and effort, too many vital war assets. Eventually they improved the ‘extermination’ of Jews and others with the invention of Zykon-B gas and high tech ovens to burn the bodies efficiently into ashes.  There was no more anger and hatred, just cold-blooded technological efficiency and they filmed their deeds.

Could St. Lawrence, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Mother Theresa, or countless unnamed Christians have made this distinction that many of our politicians do:

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ISIS can cut a boy in half with disinterested efficiency and have done many other brutalities.  We exterminate over a million  infants a year in abortion with medical technology that is suppose to save lives and then ‘harvest’ the organs and sell them over dinner and cocktails. The specter of Dr. Mengeles is active in our country daily…from Kermit Gosnell to the closest abortuary.  The Roman Emperor probably executed many others by grilling them alive without batting an eye.

 Just think of the depth of depravity of sin!  Animals do not kill each other for ideology or sport or enjoyment, but man does.  When the Church is driven out by a government, eventually the State becomes god and will not tolerate the one true God, but Lawrence served the poor in Jesus Christ.  We remember Lawrence but not the tyrant who had him murdered.  I have known Lawrences but I have never met anyone named Valerian or Nero, though maybe someone would name their dog ‘Nero”. We remember what the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus:   “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9: 4-5) As Pr. Fiene ended an excellent article,

“May God turn the hearts of all who are abusing, raping, terrorizing, and killing our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May God bring them to faith in Christ, who has put away their murderous sins and won every gemstone of His Father’s love for them. May God fill our enemies with the Holy Spirit, that they may put down their swords and share the treasure of Christ’s kingdom with those whom they once sought to destroy.”

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Suggested Lection:

Psalm 45:1-9
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 23:54-24:11 or Mark 16:1-8

Joanna, Mary, and Salome:  Known in some traditions as “the faithful women,” the visit of these three persons and other women to the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning is noted in the Gospel records of Matthew (28:1), Mark (16:1), and Luke (24:10). Joanna was the wife of Cuza, a steward in Herod’s household (Lk. 8:3). Mary, the mother of James (the son of Alphaeus), was another of the women who faithfully provided care for Jesus and His disciples from the time of His Galilean ministry through His burial after the crucifixion. Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt. 27:56), joined with the women both at the cross and in the bringing of the spices to the garden tomb. These “faithful women” have been honored in the church through the centuries as examples of humble and devoted service to the Lord.

Writing

Why was Christ’s resurrection revealed to these women first? There are several answers.

  • First, God was keeping His ancient custom of choosing what is foolish, undistinguished, and despised in the eyes of the world in order to put the strong and lofty to shame. (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-28) These women were despised not only due to the weakness of their gender but also because of Galilee, their homeland. (see John 1:46But God exalts them by revealing to them the resurrection of His Son, which is an excellent article of our faith.

  • Indeed, He even sends them to the apostles to share the message of Christ’s resurrection with them, so that they become, as the ancients say, like “apostles to the apostles” …

  • Third, in this way God wanted to prevent the accusations of the Jews. The high priests lied, saying that Christ’s disciples had stolen the body of their master. In order to provethe shamelessness and absurdity of this lie, it happened by God’s marvelous providence that these women came to the grave before the apostles. Now, it is highly unlikely that these few women could have stolen the body from a grave guarded by soldiers and closed by a large stone.

  • Fourth, through the woman Eve, death came to all human beings. On account of this, Christ wanted His resurrection, which brings us righteousness and life, to be told to others by women. At the fall of the first human being, these three worked together: the devil, who deceived; the woman, who proclaimed his talk further; the man, who ate and corrupted human nature. So also,Christ’s resurrection, these three worked together: Christ, who rose and redeemed human nature; the angel, who proclaimed the resurrection; and the women, who carried the joyful message further.

Now if Christ was pleased with the zeal of these women, which was yet bound together with significant weaknesses of faith, and did not let them come away from the tomb empty, how much less will He let those go away empty who in true faith seek Him who rules at the right hand of the Father!

Martin Chemnitz (He has been called the “second Martin”, the first being Martin Luther;  all of the above from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  They brought myrrh.  We remember myrrh every Christmas as the magi brought”gold, frankincense and myrrh”. The magi were hard-core pagan magicians and unexpectedly they bring expensive gifts for the King!  Myrrh was a costly ointment used for fragrance.  In the Song of Solomon myrrh is used to scent the marital bed.  It was also used for burial of the dead to cover the smell of death, but it is finally only perfume, a cover up and sin and death “stink to high heaven”.   The faithful women bear myrrh to the tomb and unexpectedly they find out:  He is risen!  O Lord, the holy women came to anoint Your Body in the Tomb and You did anoint them, and us, eternally with Your Risen Life!  You anoint us with the grace of Your forgiveness in the anointing of the Holy Ghost! They did not have to anoint His Body!  As  Christ Jesus is the sweet fragrance of His Resurrection by which He has conquered death, no cover-up of death  but swallowing  up death: Christ the death of death our foe, Christ the life of all the living.  Along with Joanna, Mary and Salome, we are joined with Paul and all the Church to be the “aroma of Christ”:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2)

Let us pray…

Mighty God, Your crucified and buried Son did not remain in the tomb for long. Give us joy in the tasks set before us, that we might carry out faithful acts of service as did Joanna, Mary, and Salome, offering to You the sweet perfume of our grateful hearts, so that we, too, may see the glory of Your resurrection and proclaim the Good News with unrestrained eagerness and fervor worked in us through our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Appointed Scripture Readings:  Acts 15: 1-21   Psalm 46   Galatians 2: 1-10   St. Matthew 16: 13-19

 

About this Feast Day and St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles:   The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul is probably the oldest of the saints’ observances (dating from about the middle of the third century). An early tradition held that these two pillars of the New Testament Church were martyred on the same day in Rome during the persecution under Nero. In addition to this joint commemoration of their deaths, both apostles are commemorated separately: Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16) and Paul on January 25 for his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

The confession of St. Peter did not arise in the imagination of Peter’s heart but was revealed to him by the Father. The reason this confession is important is seen in Jesus’ response: “You are Peter [Greek Petros], and on this rock [Greek petra] I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). As the people of God in the Old Testament began with the person of Abraham, the rock from which God’s people were hewn (Isaiah 51:1-2), so the people of God in the New Testament would begin with the person of Peter, whose confession is the rock on which Christ would build His Church. But Peter was not alone (the “keys” given to him in Matthew 16:19 were given to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18 and John 20:21-23). As St. Paul tells us, Peter and the other apostles take their place with the prophets as the foundation of the Church, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The confession of Peter, therefore, is the witness of the entire apostolic band and is foundational in the building of Christ’s Church. Thus the Church gives thanks to God for St. Peter and the other apostles who have instructed Christ’s Holy Church in His divine and saving truth. 

St. Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascusis related three times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out forDamascus to arrest and bring believers toJerusalemfor trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his sight: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts9:15). After receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the great apostle.

Reflection:  Those who would remake the Church into what they want and desire, will eventually have Christ Jesus remade into their own image, that is, an idol.  Too many build the Church upon men’s opinions of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s question to the disciples, Who do men say that I am? was never intended by the Lord to be an eternal discussion question for so-called Bible studies in too many congregations. Every year, before Christmas and Easter, come the articles debunking some portion or portions of the Bible about Jesus, like clockwork.  The Lord’s question to Peter surfaced the rumors about Him and they were just that rumors, conjecture, innuendo. Peter and Paul knew that Christ  is the only Cornerstone of His Church and that all who were being baptized, were being built onto the Cornerstone,not the cornerstone upon them! See Acts 4:11,Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2: 5-7.  The Holy Spirit conforms us to the Lord’s specs in the blueprint of His Church,  by His mercy for sinners, not according to our specs and schemes for His Church.

Peter and Paul had differences between them and much in common.  Both Peter and Paul were Jews.  Peter was an uneducated fisherman, while Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who was taught at the feet of the great rabbi, Gamaliel. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning, the first of the Apostles.  Paul, as he said, was the last of the apostles.  Both were zealous for the Law. Yet, Peter denied Christ.  Paul persecuted the Church and consented to the murder of Stephen, the first martyr of “followers of the Way”.  Both knew they were sinners whom the Law could not save and that Christ alone does atone.  Peter,
 
61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him,“Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”62 And he went out and wept bitterly.” 
 
“Behold of a sudden the lover is a liar. (Peter) finds out what he is; he who had thought too highly of himself” (St. Augustine).  Peter’s tears were of godly sorrow that leads to repentance.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.   Paul was blinded by his sin in the glory of crucified Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Paul finds out what he is and like Peter, Paul also thought so highly of  himself and Christ taught him well:
 
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12: 3)
 
Paul’s confession of sin was also of the godly sorrow. Called by Christ Jesus, Peter and Paul both knew by faith His forgiveness of them and each and everyone of us. Both confessed Jesus is Lord. Both built up the Church through the Word of God, as St. Paul wrote:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.
As the Apostle Peter wrote:
1 Peter
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Both built well with the Word of God upon the sure Cornerstone Jesus Christ. Neither Peter or Paul built the Church upon themselves, their spiritualities or the fads and fashions of this vain world. Both were martyred, tradition says on this day, in Rome. Remember and rejoice that  Peter and Paul, and all Christian martyrs, unlike the Islamic variety, do not try to take people with them in death, but ever preached and taught, the Way to heaven, in faith, not to kill the infidel, but that the infidel come to faith and  live eternally in Jesus Christ.

 

Prayer of the Day

Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

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“As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”-St. Cyril of Alexandria

Bio: Cyril (ca. A.D. 376-444) became archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is “rightly called and truly is the Mother of God”–Theotokos, “the God-bearer” (Formula of Concord, VIII, Ep VIII, 12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God. The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril’s Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. (Source: LCMS website:  Commemoration Biographies)

Reflection:

All theology is Christology.  Faithful Christianity is doctrinal and the doctrine is Christ.  Cyril was an adamant defender of the pure doctrine  of the nature of Christ.  Heresies seem to fall off the true doctrine horse on one of two sides:  Jesus is pure God and only appeared to be a man, e.g. gnosticism or Jesus was only a man, e.g. Arianism, that is, He was a good teacher.  Either way we end up without the Savior of the world (cf.John 4:421 John 4:14).  Cyril articulating the orthodox doctrine that Mary is Theotokos, the bearer of God (cf. St. Luke  ) was less about Mary and more about the true nature of Christ:  She bore God in her womb incarnate in Jesus.  Only “the Sacred Head now wounded” could and did bear the sin of the world: yours and mine.  Fall off the horse on either side, we are no longer following the Lord.  Pure doctrine matters.

Pure doctrine matters and this has been the rallying cry of all true pastors, theologians, seminary professors and all the Church for centuries.    Another defender of pure doctrine Pr. and Doctor C. F. W. Walther (first President of Concordia Seminary/St. Louis and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) had this to say about pure doctrine:

“…what an awful delusion has taken hold upon so many men’s minds who ridicule the pure doctrine and say to us: “Ah, do cease clamoring, Pure doctrine! Pure doctrine! That can only land you in dead orthodoxism. Pay more attention to pure life, and you will raise a growth of genuine Christianity.” That is exactly like saying to a farmer: “Do not worry forever about good seed; worry about good fruits.” Is not a farmer properly concerned about good fruit when he is solicitous about getting good seed? Just so a concern about pure doctrine is the proper concern about genuine Christianity and a sincere Christian life. False doctrine is noxious seed, sown by the enemy to produce a progeny of wickedness. The pure doctrine is wheat-seed; from it spring the children of the Kingdom, who even in the present life belong in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and in the life to come will be received into the Kingdom of Glory. May God even now implant in your hearts a great fear, yea, a real abhorrence, of false doctrine! May He graciously give you a holy desire for the pure, saving truth, revealed by God Himself! (Proper Distinction between Law and Promise, Third Evening Lecture)

Only the enlivening orthodoxy of the Word of God, Law and Gospel, gives us life in the preaching of Christ and Him crucified.  Cyril knew this. He planted the good Seed of Christ. Below is an example from St. Cyril of such a lively orthodoxy:

“We can never be tired of hearing about the crowning of our Lord, and least of all in this most holy Golgotha…. Let none be weary. Take your armor against the adversaries in the cause of the cross itself; set up the faith of the cross as a trophy against our opponents. For when you are going to dispute with unbelievers concerning the cross of Christ, first make with your hand the sign of Christ’s cross, and the gainsayer will be silenced. Don’t be ashamed to confess the cross, for angels glory in it, saying, ‘I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified’ (Matthew 28:5)….

“Now Golgotha means ‘the place of a skull.’ Who prophetically named this spot Golgotha, where Christ the true head endured the cross? As the apostle says,

  • ‘He is the image of the invisible God’; and a little after, ‘He is the head of the body, the church’ (Colossians 1:15, 18).
  • And again, ‘the head of every man is Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:3);
  • and again, ‘who is the head of all rule and authority’ (Colossians 2:10).

The head suffered at ‘the place of a skull: O wondrous prophetic name! The very name also reminds you, saying, ‘Do not think of the Crucified as of a mere man. He is the head of all principality and power. He who was crucified is the head of all power and has for His head the Father, for “the head of every man is Christ…. and the head of Christ is God” ‘ (1 Corinthians 11:3)”(Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13.22-23).

Heavenly Father, Your servant Cyril steadfastly proclaimed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be one person, fully God and fully man.  By Your infinite mercy, keep us constant in faith and worship of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13

Acts 13:13-26

Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29b

The long bony finger says it all:  it is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must not neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, and not that the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word and  doers of the Word (Luke 8:21). In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really (John 3:16).  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to His blessed Mother, not to our spiritualities but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His baptized saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His just Law and judgment.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is His finger pointing us  ever to the  pure Gospel for our lives day by day as we are justified freely on account of the Christ John so pointed out.

Christ is our steadfastness in these times of immorality and unrest, even near  those who bear the name of brother (see 1 Corinthians 5:11) . John was steadfast in his preaching, especially regarding marriage. The Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, 24 June 2014 He was born for this.  The saints are encouragement to the Church to hold the course steady in doctrine and practice.  The Church will not be patted on the back by the world.  It is not easy but we can point others to the Lord:  Behold!  The Lamb of God. We are reborn for this.  Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, in his commentary on  Matthew 11:7:  

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12—Johann Gerhard

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

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Biography:  Boniface was born in the late seventh century in England. Though he was educated, became a monk, and was ordained as a presbyter in England, he was inspired by the example of others to become a missionary.  The 8th century the Church was international: Rome, England, Germany, Frisia (Holland) were all part of the Boniface’s bio and mission.   The Word created the uncommon common culture of the Church. Upon receiving a papal commission in 719 to work in Germany, Boniface devoted himself to planting, organizing, and reforming churches and monasteries in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. After becoming an archbishop, Boniface was assigned to the See of Mainz in 743. Ten years later he resigned his position to engage in mission work in the Netherlands. On June 5, 754,  Pentecost that year, and at sunrise, while reading the Gospel to a group of the newly Baptized, a band of pagan Frisians attacked Boniface and the

neophytes.  Boniface and the neophytes were massacred. According to reports, Boniface was carrying a Bible and it was stabbed. So his emblem is the one you see here.  In Fulda, Germany, are the remains of Boniface along with the Bible, with the slash mark, he was holding when killed.  Boniface died while catechizing. He was around 80 years old.

Reflection:  The movie clip is from “The Avengers” one of the crop of superhero adventure movies.  In this scene the Norse God Thor and Loki are battling and Captain America goes to fight them, but before he does he delivers one of my favorite lines of any from this movie genre:

Yes, this is a strange clip for a saint’s commemoration but the false god Thor has a connection with Boniface!  

The greatest, most noted and spectacular event in Boniface’s mission work occurred in 723, when he returned to the mission fields in Hesse, “…was to fell the sacred oak tree of Thor (a Norse god), at Geisman in the region of Hesse.  When Boniface was not struck down by the ‘god’, many people were converted and Boniface built a chapel in honor of St. Peter with wood from the tree.” (Festivals and Commemorationsby Rev. Phillip Pfatteicher)  Nowadays progressive Prots and Roman Catholics would probably want to form a dialogue with Norse ‘theologians’, but Boniface and company preached the Gospel, the Bible, Christian morals and catechized and educated the people…without compromising to the pagan worldview nor the corrupt priests Boniface disicplined (1).  

The Church was built and the Lord was the builder.  Even a script writer for The Avengers got it right about Thor: “Ma’am, there is only one God and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that”.  He dressed in our flesh in the fullness of time to bear our sin and be our Savior.  Boniface was dress in Jesus Christ so that many could hear the Word and be saved.  If you want to read more about Boniface read this.  It is so clear from the Bible, Church history, as it was in the ministry of Boniface, the mission work of our forebears to this land, who built churches, hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges, seminaries, that the work of His Church is to build and edify through mortar and in mortals, because God so loved the world He gave His only-begotten Son.  

Almighty God, who called Your faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering raised up a people for Your own possession, pour forth Your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many Your holy Name may be glorified and Your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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(1)  From a letter from Bp. Boniface to Bp. Daniel of Winchester, “…we have fightings within as well as fears, caused especially by false priests and hypocrites, enemies of God, ruining themselves, misleading the people with scandals and false doctrines, and crying to them, as the prophet says, “Peace! Peace! when there is no peace.”  They strive to cover and choke with weeds or to turn into poisonous grain the seed of the Word which we have received from the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Churchand have tried to sow.  What we plant they do not water that it may increase but try to uproot that it may wither away, offering to the people and teaching them new divisions and errors of divers sorts…that murderers and adulterers who persist in their crimes may nevertheless be priests of God.

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