Herod…had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter 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 to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. – Mark 6:17-29
This hymn is not well known, but a beautiful reminder that even those whose lives have been taken from them will yet sing God’s praises.
Behold a host, arrayed in white, Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright,
With palms they stand. Who is this band Before the throne of light?
Lo, these are they of glorious fame Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood of Jesus’ blood Are cleansed from guilt and blame.
Now gathered in the holy place, Their voices they in worship raise,
Their anthems swell where God doth dwell, Mid angels’ songs of praise.
Perhaps you have lost a loved one – maybe even to so-called natural causes. No special martyrdom status. No heroic confession of faith. Just a simple, faithful believer. A humble servant. A Jesus-lover. Sunday school teacher. Mother. Father. Sinner, yet saint.
John’s disciple’s buried his body after he was beheaded. This was an act of respect and love. I’m sure it was difficult. I’m sure they had to deal with realities of his death that none of us would wish to encounter. But they did. When we bury a loved-one who died in the faith we do so “In the firm and fervent hope of the resurrection on the Great Last Day.” Perhaps that was their hope as well.
Even before Jesus was raised from the dead, the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life was fundamental to the Jewish faith. Jesus teaches as much. Jesus told the Sadducees (who rejected the idea of the resurrection), “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Luke 20:37).
Today, when a loved one dies, we have a more certain hope. Jesus has come. Jesus has died. But Jesus rose from the dead. Lives and reigns at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit has come and called us to faith. And in that call is the seed of our hope for the life of the world to come.
We will celebrate All Saints Day this coming Sunday at St. John. We’ll remember those who have gone before us. We’ll rejoice in the truth of Revelation 13:14 – And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
They, just as John, will not be forsaken.