The Christian calendar wastes no time in reminding us that the “Way” of Christ came with a cost to his earliest followers and to innocent bystanders.
On Monday we celebrated the feast of St. Stephen, the first deacon and an early martyr who forgives his tormenters even as they stone him.
Today we have the feast of St. John – “the one whom Jesus loved” – and who would grieve deeply at the death of Jesus.
Tomorrow, comes perhaps the hardest of all: the remembrance of the “Holy Innocents,” the children murdered by Herod the King.
The Twelve Days of Christmas toss out the wrappings right quick. The baby in the manger does not stay a baby long in the Christmas season.
If you aren’t quite there yet, neither am I.
As for me, I am still in recovery mode. We had a tremendous Christmas, with more than 600 people coming through our doors Christmas Eve. We marched around the church with dozens of children at 5 pm singing “The Friendly Beasts” as we accompanied Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.
At 8 pm we sang carols and listened to the beautiful harp playing of Margaret Lee. Then at 11 pm we pulled out the stops, lit the incense and sang until we were hoarse.
Christmas morning was clear and lovely. We kept to our regular Sunday service schedule – Christmas came on a Sunday, after all. Attendance was solid, and I was charmed most of all by the five sweet people who came to our 5:30 pm service. With Pastor Heather Warren and myself, that made seven. We sang a few more carols and gathered around the Holy Table for our Christmas Eucharist as the sun faded outside.
And now this week, we get walloped with martyrs, apostles and innocents. What to make of all that?
It is a reminder, if we need it, that Christmas is the opening act of Easter. The crescendo is still to come. The baby in the manger grows up, finds his calling, teaches and heals, and ends up on the Cross. It is a reminder that the Christmas story continues to be written after his birth and death by the people who continue to meet him along their path. Those we saints remember this week remind us that we are still a part of this vast and great Christmas story that began before time and has no end.
The readings for today drive home the point. From Proverbs 8:22-30: “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts long ago… I was his daily delight, rejoicing before him always.”
And from the Gospel of John 13:20-35 we are told of the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died. As Judas goes out to betray him, Jesus tells his followers how to continue writing this great story every day of their life:
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”