Sunday, 11 July 2021

If you were accused of being
a Christian, is there enough
evidence to convict you?

The Execution of Saint John the Baptist … an early 18th century icon from the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Anopolis, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 11 July 2021

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VI).

9.30: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II), Castletown Church

11.30: Morning Prayer (MP II), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

The Readings: II Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Mark 6: 14-29.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

Herod’s daughter dances for the head of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is about than two weeks since we commemorated the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June 2021). Now, this morning’s Gospel reading recalls the execution of Saint the Baptist.

This Gospel story is full of stark, cruel, violent reality. To achieve this dramatic effect, it is told with recall, flashback or with the use of the devise modern movie-makers call ‘back story.’

Cruel Herod has already executed Saint John the Baptist – long ago. Now he hears about the miracles and signs being worked by Jesus and his disciples.

Some people think that Saint John the Baptist has returned, even though John has been executed by Herod. Others think Jesus is Elijah – and popular belief at the time expected Elijah to return at Judgment Day (Malachi 4: 5).

On the other hand, Herod, the deranged Herod who has already had John beheaded, wonders whether John is back again. And we are presented with a flashback to the story of Saint John the Baptist, how he was executed in a moment of passion, how Herod grieved, and how John was buried.

Did you ever get mistaken for someone else? Or, do you ever wonder whether the people you work with, or who are your neighbours, really know who you are?

I am thinking of two examples. Anthony Hope Hawkins was the son of the Vicar of Saint Bride’s in Fleet Street, the Revd Edwards Comerford Hawkins. He was walking home to his father’s vicarage in London one dusky evening when he came face-to-face with a man who looked like his mirror image.

He wondered what would happen if they swapped places, if this double went back to Saint Bride’s vicarage, while he headed off instead to the suburbs. Would anyone notice?

It inspired him, under the penname of Anthony Hope, to write his best-selling novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.

The other example I think of is the way I often hear people put themselves down with sayings such as: ‘If they only knew what I’m really like … if they only knew what I’m truly like …’

What are you truly like?

And would you honestly want to swap your life for someone else’s?

Would you take on all their woes, and angsts and burdens, along with their way of life?

It is a recurring theme for poets, writers and philosophers over the centuries.

More recently, it was the theme in John Boorman’s movie The Tiger’s Tail (2006). Brendan Gleeson plays both the main character and his protagonist. Is he his doppelgänger, a forerunner warning of doom, destruction and death? Or is he the lost twin brother who envies his achievements and lifestyle?

The doppelgänger was regarded as a harbinger of doom and death.

There is a way in which Saint John the Baptist is seen as the harbinger of the death of his own cousin, Christ.

The account of Saint John’s execution anticipates the future facing Christ and some of the disciples, and Christ’s own burial (see Mark 15: 45-47). The idea that John might be raised from the dead anticipates Christ’s resurrection.

As well as attracting similar followers and having similar messages, did these two cousins, in fact, look so like one another physically?

But Herod had known John the Baptist, he knew him as a righteous and a holy man, and he protected him. Why, he even liked to listen to John.

Do you think Herod was confused about the identities of Christ and of Saint John the Baptist?

Is Herod so truly deranged that he can believe someone he has executed, whose severed head he has seen, could come back to life in such a short period?

Or is Herod’s reaction merely one of exasperation and exhaustion: ‘Oh no! Not that John, back again!’

We too are forerunners, sent out to be signs of the Kingdom of God. To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or at least it ought to be so.

To be a disciple is to follow a risky calling – or at least it ought to be so.

We once had a poster on our kitchen door with a grumpy looking judge and the words, ‘If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’

Last Sunday, we heard how Christ sent out the disciples, two by two, inviting people into the Kingdom of God. But they are beginning to realise that the authorities are rejecting Christ.

Now with Herod’s maniacal and capricious way of making decisions, discipleship has become an even more risk-filled commitment.

But Herod’s horrid banquet runs right into the next story in Saint Mark’s Gospel where Christ feeds the 5,000, a sacramental sign of the invitation to all to the heavenly banquet – more than we can imagine can be fed in any human undertaking.

The invitation to Herod’s banquet, for the privileged and the prejudiced, is laden with the smell of death.

The invitation to Christ’s banquet, for the marginalised and the rejected, is laden with the promise of life.

Herod feeds the prejudices of his own family and a closed group of courtiers. Christ shows that, despite the initial prejudices of the disciples, all are welcome to his banquet.

Herod is in a lavish palace in his city, but is isolated and deserted. Christ withdraws to an open but deserted place to be alone, but a great crowd follows him.

Herod fears the crowd beyond his palace gates. Christ rebukes the disciples for wanting to keep the crowds away.

Herod offers his daughter half his kingdom. Christ offers us all, as God’s children, the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Herod’s daughter asks for John’s head on a platter. On the mountainside, Christ feeds all.

Our lives are filled with choices.

Herod chooses loyalty to his inner circle and their greed. Christ tells his disciples to make a choice in favour of those who need food and shelter.

Herod’s banquet leads to destruction and death. Christ’s banquet is an invitation to building the kingdom and to new life.

Would I rather be at Herod’s Banquet for the few in the palace or with Christ as he feeds the masses in the wilderness?

Who would you invite to the banquet?

And who do you think feels excluded from the banquet?

We may never get the chance to be like Herod when it comes to lavish banqueting and decadent partying. But we have an opportunity to be party to inviting the many to the banquet that really matters.

Who feels turned away from the banquet by the Church today, abandoned and left to fend for themselves?

And, in our response to their needs, when we become signs of the Kingdom of God, we provide evidence enough to convict us when we are accused of being Christians.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 14-29 (NRSVA):

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 15 But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ 23 And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ 24 She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary … a scene in the chancel of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
Pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Generous God,
we thank you that, by your grace,
you have made your Son known to us,
and have adopted us as your children,
marking us with the seal of your Spirit.
Help us to praise you with all our might
and to bless others in all our deeds
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water.
Refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

381, God has spoken – by his prophets (CD 23)
134, Make way, make way for Christ the King (CD 8)

Inside the Chapel of the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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