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Walking with John in life and death

by davesandel on June 24th, 2020

June 24, 2020               (today’s lectionary)

Walking with John in life and death

June is busting out all over with feasts and solemnities. My friends the Dominicans in Springfield warned me about this in their monthly letter. Well, not warned exactly. Get all excited and praise the Lord, they said.

June 7         Most Holy Trinity

June 14       Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

June 19       Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

June 20       Memorial to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

June 24       Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (today!)

June 29       Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

I hope I didn’t miss any.

In the middle of the sacred days we also celebrated:

Father’s Day.

The last day of May was Memorial Day.

A week or two before that was Mother’s Day.

Actually my own mother’s birthday is June 30, 1922. She is nearly 98.

My brother John’s wife Karen’s birthday is the next day, July 1.

And then in no time at all, the 4th of July, Independence Day, Saturday … in the park.

No parades this year, I guess. No fireworks either, at least not in Champaign-Urbana. Too big of a party, even if it is outside.

It’s been hot like it was summer or something. But now, these couple days in the middle of the week are beautiful again. Humidity is low, temperatures are moderate, sunshine and blue sky abound. I can hear the birds better in weather like this. They sing and sing and sing.

I’m listening for a segue to talk about John the Baptist. John my brother, named no doubt after one of the Bible Johns, the baptizer or the apostle, called just now to tell me a farm cat got killed. The farm can be deadly now and then, even life-giving as it is most of the time.

John and I battled as young brothers. We wrestled. I tickled him because I was seven years older, and he writhed and laughed. He developed the best laugh I’ve ever heard, and he still laughs just that way.

We played baseball. Well, actually, we took turns throwing the ball up and hitting it out into the cornfield after the field had been picked. Sometimes he would stand too close behind me, and I’d hit him in the head with the baseball bat. He never went to the hospital. We never told anybody. He could always get up again afterwards. I don’t know how much it’s affected him.

John the Baptist, as far as I know, did not have a brother. In fact he might have been one of those sackcloth-wearing Nazarites, eating locusts and honey. How did the people of Jerusalem ever hear of him, let alone walk out into the desert for a picnic and a sermon? But many of those who did felt the burn, and were baptized. John recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, even though they were cousins. He saw past the family connection and saw God touching Jesus, blessing him.

John wanted to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus told him they needed to stick with the protocol for now.

John had nothing good to say about Herod and his family. Eventually he was arrested, and in an embarrassing turn of events had his head cut off during a drunken dance, his dead head a prize for the previously, relatively innocent beauty on the dance floor.

So that was that. Jesus was heartbroken. Jesus was also more alone than he had ever been. Would Jesus and John have teamed up and become an invincible heavenly duo? Who knows? John, the sharp-edged sword, the polished arrow, the servant who shows Israel the glory named Jesus, was dead.

To celebrate the life of John is also to recognize his death. Even as we must in our own lives.

Yes, we are wonderful made, fearfully made

Yes Lord, you know when we sit and when we stand

And when we die

You works are wonderful,

Fashioned as you have fashioned us in the depths of the earth

It is from dust we came, and to dust we will return

Nothing there to be sad about, just to know. We hang onto life until one day we don’t. The cat John found, named Caramel just a day ago by our friend’s daughter, held onto life until she held no longer.

John too. John the Baptist, John my brother. David too. The king of Israel, all the Davids since. Me.

Even falling back to dust

We are fearfully and wonderfully made

Always

As John said about Jesus

“Behold, one is coming after me!”

Will you go before the Lord to prepare his way?

Luke told the story of John’s birth too well not to have heard it from a participant. Mary, maybe? Who else was there? Elizabeth and Zechariah, returned to dust. John himself, returned to dust. But the story stands strong through the winds of time.

Of John, Luke wrote what he heard:

Surely the hand of the Lord was with him

The child grew and became strong in spirit

And he was in the desert until the day

God showed this man to Israel

            (Isaiah 49, Psalm 139, Acts 13, Luke 1)

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