If we take a look at this morning’s gospel we are given a picture of a party. Herod was celebrating his birthday with a grand hooley. All the ‘great and the good’ would be there. However, it turned out to be a party like no other. It was to be an evening that would evoke many different feelings. It certainly appeared that Herod was having a whale of a time - maybe whilst having drunk too much all inhibitions were gone. And he acts foolishly. All because of the allure of a dancing girl. He offered her anything she wanted and I should think he got more than he bargained for. John the Baptist had highlighted Herod’s adulterous affair with Herodias and so it was Herodias who seized the opportunity to get rid of him for good. Was it out of spite she persuaded her daughter - the dancer - to ask for John’s head on a plate? Or was it a clear, calculated move?
And the guests - some may have been so inebriated that they thought it great fun - joining in with the clapping and cheering. Others may well have been horrified - but in the presence of Herod felt they had to look as though they were enjoying themselves - after all, he had the reputation of being a tyrant.
And John's disciples - they would have come with heavy hearts to collect his body. After all, he was their teacher, friend and mentor.
Who would they turn to now? Some would follow Jesus whilst others may have just dispersed to their previous lives.
Although it is important to commemorate the death of John the Baptist we must not see it as an isolated event, because the result of that evening was to throw Jesus well and truly into the limelight. For John was a prophet and his vocation had been to foretell the coming of the Messiah - in other words to point the way towards Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Throughout his life John was growing in holiness and wisdom and eventually he was able to perceive that his distant relative and friend was the long awaited Messiah.
And in a way that’s how it should be with us. As we pursue a prayer life - in whatever form that takes. For each of us it will be different as we prefer a style of prayer that suits our personality, mood or circumstances. And, of course, that style very often alters as time progresses. If you look back over the years you may well be surprised at the different ways of praying that have come to the fore. How at one time you may have used the ‘Jesus’ prayer or a rosary. Maybe you’ve pondered in silence the wonders of nature - especially living here surrounded by the sea and countryside - where we can look in awe at the fiery sunrises and sunsets. At other times thankfulness is the order of the day.
In one sense how we pray is unimportant - the important thing is that we do take time to pray. It is in the very action of prayer that God becomes more central in our lives. Like John we will have a heightened awareness of Jesus’ effect on our lives. And it is during these periods of consciously trying to connect with our Lord, we are in the process of being healed. And healing is an ongoing process - for we all are broken people. We all have fears and worries, physical ailments and spiritual difficulties at times. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life.
Now just to change tack. When I took Life Vows within the Society of St Luke I was given my monastic cross. A very simple wooden cross with the marks of the wounds of Christ on the front. And I wear it every day. However, when I received it I was a little disappointed to discover that it had been broken and glued back together. For a while that took the shine out of it for me. Then I realised as I held this symbol of our Lord’s suffering - the ridge where it had been repaired reminded me of my own brokenness.
And indeed, it now serves, as a salutary reminder, of how much I rely on my God - and your God - to guide me through this world. It doesn’t mean I always get it right - but I can always say ‘I’m sorry’ and start over again in the hope of becoming a better person. Amen.
The Reverend Mother Julie Wiseman SSL.