‘The death of John the Baptist’ – 11th July 2021 – 6th Sunday after Trinity

We regret that we are unable to offer a live-stream of this week's service.

The Readings
Amos 7.7-15

This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said,
‘See, I am setting a plumb-line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.’

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, ‘Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
“Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.” ’
And Amaziah said to Amos, ‘O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.’

Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Mark 6.14 -29

The Death of John the Baptist
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias 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.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’ Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.


Scripture Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon

By Catherine B, a Reader at St. Mary's

Today’s gospel story is as puzzling as it is gruesome. We’re told that John the Baptist has severely criticised Herod for his irregular marriage. So why has Herod not killed him earlier? Why has he put him in prison for protection? Why does he like to listen to a man he fears and finds perplexing?

When you look more closely at his situation, for someone who is supposed to be the ruler of the area, he doesn’t seem to have much agency. His wife has left her previous husband for him. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a love match – perhaps she thought that being married to Herod would bring her more prestige and power. But John the Baptist is a threat. He has pointed out that their marriage isn’t lawful in the eyes of the Jewish faith. You can imagine her nagging Herod to do something about John.

So Herod has John imprisoned. It’s a bit of a compromise. John is contained, but not killed. There is a part of Herod which recognises that John is a holy man. John has important, albeit difficult truths to tell and Herod wants to hear them. But for his wife, this spells danger. Herod could fall for John’s charms and her access to power and prestige could be felled in one blow. So she begins to plot.

Herod’s birthday arrives, with a big party attended by many influential men. The wine flows freely and everyone has a good time. Herod’s wife sends her daughter into the room to dance. It goes down splendidly. Herod promises the girl anything she wants – yes even half his kingdom! She immediately goes to ask her mother for advice. Who grabs her chance. Ask for the head of John the Baptist.

So she does. And Herod’s mood changes from joviality to despair. He’s been trapped. He can’t back down and refuse the girl his offer – it would be seen as weak. No one would ever take him seriously again. He’d be deposed, lose everything, most likely killed. So he gives in to the request. John is beheaded, and in a gruesome parody of the great banquet – his head is brought to the feast on a plate.

Why does the church set this powerful story about John’s death set for this week, bang in the middle of what the church calls “ordinary time”? Why not during Lent or Advent – the traditional times in the Christian year for focusing on John the Baptist?

Well, if we look at the start of the passage, it’s not directly about John the Baptist at all. John is already dead and buried.

The passage is about Jesus. He has been preaching his message of repentance, has been healing the sick, and has sent his disciples out to do the same. The mission is going well. People don’t know Jesus that well yet, and are asking who he might be. Is he John the Baptist? Is he Elijah? Is he another prophet from that great tradition of prophets?

The story is also about Herod’s reaction to hearing about Jesus. When news of Jesus reaches Herod, you can imagine his heart sinking, his guilt rising. This Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead! You cannot keep important, difficult truths down. It’s only then that we are told what had happened to John.

John the Baptist wasn’t raised from the dead. His disciples heard about his death, collected his body and buried it. And that is the end of John’s story.

But who was he? In other gospel passages John makes it quite clear that he is not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet. He may be charismatic and have a message for the people. But ultimately his role is to point to someone greater.

And John’s death points too, to the way in which that someone greater would die. Jesus, too, would be arrested and imprisoned by a weak leader. Someone who found him intriguing, would have kept him alive, but who bowed to political pressure to have him executed. Today’s story is early in the gospel, but already points to the way in which the gospel story will end. Like John, Jesus will be put to death in a gruesome manner by a puppet leader.

But it’s not quite the end. John’s story ends with his burial. Jesus’ story continues - death, burial and then a mysterious empty tomb and the promise of new life. You cannot keep important truths down.

The Prayers

Prepared by Veronica H

In the power of the spirit and in union with Christ Let us pray to the Father.

Oh God, Creator and Preserver of us all, we pray for people in every kind of need, especially for those who have fled oppression and remain in refugee camps far from their homes, or who find themselves rejected when they seek a new life elsewhere. We remember how Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt when their baby’s life was in peril, and pray that the wealthier countries of the world will reach out to provide shelter and food, and welcome those in dire need. Grant to national leaders and to us all in our daily lives the wisdom to use the resources of the earth according to your will.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for the Church worldwide, for the Church of England that it may continue to be in every place to minister to every community, with its churches open to all who wish to enter and join its fellowship. We pray for parish priests everywhere who lead our worship, visit the sick and all in any spiritual need, and help congregations understand their calling to build up our common life by reaching out and serving our whole community. We give you thanks for the clergy at St Mark’s and St John’s and all who take services here, our Readers, and the contribution of all our congregation.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all children and young people whose lives and education have been disrupted by the pandemic, and for the teachers and lecturers who have worked so hard to ensure that their pupils are not only supported in their learning, but have also ensured they are fed where families are in difficulties. We ask your blessing on staff and children at St Mary’s School.
Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are ill at this time, especially those who are suffering long Covid or have long-term conditions and are apprehensive at the spread of the new variant during the forthcoming easing of restrictions. Help us to think of the needs of others as we are allowed greater freedom in our daily lives. We give you thanks for our NHS workers and carers, and the scientists who have developed vaccines in record time. In a moment of silence we remember by name those we know who are in special need of your healing grace…………..
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember before you all those who have died prematurely as a result of Covid, and all others who have died through other illness, accidents or have simply come to the end of their natural life- span. We remember before you all those we loved and see no more…………..

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, John and Mark and all your saints, we commend ourselves and all your creation to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour
Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000