By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:7-15
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!”
Today we remember the Oxford Martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, architect of the Book of Common Prayer. They were burned to death — Latimer and Ridley in 1555, Cranmer in 1556. Queen Mary was determined to bring England back into the fold of Rome and eradicate what she fervently believed to be heresy within her realm. The Protestant Reformation and its aftermath produced great theological debate and texts which forever changed the way many Christians worship, including the first vernacular translations of the Bible. It also produced a lot of dead bodies.
The Church commemorates St. Stephen as the first Christian martyr, but in today’s gospel, Jesus marks John the Baptist as the first martyr of the kingdom. The violent assault against the kingdom of heaven began with him. He set the example for Christian witness, firm and steadfast, even to a grotesque and terrifying death. Over 1,500 years afterward, when they were tied to the stake, and the flames crept nearer and nearer, Latimer boldly said: “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”
The Lord abhors schism. And death is an evil which he came to eradicate with his own death and resurrection. Yet even within the pain and violence of history, God calls his people to produce good work to his glory. And this calling can be a hard one, leading to a martyr’s death. Friends, we are not called to the soft robes and the royal palaces of this world. If we serve the princes of here and now, it is to humbly bear witness to the truth, a witness that very well may lead to someone coming for our head. Let us walk in the light and, please Lord, may we meet our end, however it may come, with the courage of those who have come before us.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Georgia
Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, Texas