The artwork on the front of the bulletin is a bit different today. On it you see a shield with three flaying knives. Knives used to clean skin off game hunted in the wild to prepare it as food for the family of the hunter.
This is the shield of St. Bartholomew, whose saint day, very appropriately, we celebrate today. Not much is known about St. Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, but he was an Apostle. As the Collect stated, he was an Apostle chosen specifically by Jesus, to preach the Gospel. The price of which, was his life.
Thus, the shield and the tradition. That St. Bartholomew was flayed alive and crucified to be mocked by his enemies, but to imitate his Lord showing forth the same suffering and death as Jesus. For, as Jesus speaks to us today in verse 29,
“I assign to you as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom”
Before St. Bartholomew left to preach the Gospel, after the Ascension, he knew what he was getting into. Just as it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise again, so also with His Apostles and saints. There will not be prestige, popularity, or comfort. Riches will not come pouring in with millions of followers all waiting for what you have to say.
Instead, their lot is with Jesus; for better or worse. Our lot is with Jesus. In the confession of belief you all make today, you throw your hearts in with Christ leaning on Him and not your own understanding. You don’t know how all this works or how it pertains to everyday life, but Jesus gives clear promises.
Jesus assigned to the Apostles to carry His Word to the whole world. Tradition has St. Thomas making it to India, but that’s it. For all intents and purposes, the 12 Apostles failed. Even St. Paul, the most traveled of the bunch, only made it as far as Rome.
So it was handed over to those coming after them to continue the work of preaching the Gospel. The Apostles laid their hands on new men, ordaining them to teach the Apostle’s doctrine, to communion, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers.
All of which Jesus handed over on the night when He was betrayed. All of which continues to spread, regardless of the deaths of millions of Christians. Which is a funny thing, because, usually when something is deemed non-profitable and non-cultural, it tends to die out, especially when it comes to religion.
For example: Islam has survived by the sword ever since its inception in the 8th century A.D. It is now simply a cultural identity. If you are Arabic or of middle-eastern decent, you are muslim. There are converts, but they are second or third-class, compared to those with direct genetic connection to Mohammed. They use death as a means of grace, moving from one country to another and forcing submission upon all either in the form of oppression or physical death.
This is a lie that has served Satan well. Satan and all unbelievers believe that death is the great purifier of the world. That through it, I should say by it, domination can be realized. Godly domination even, for God said to have dominion. Thus, in order for himself to be like God, Satan must spread death and thereby spread his reign over the earth.
He is not successful. It is true, Christians lose their lives for the faith by the thousands everyday, but the Faith is not stopped. Someone is always there to continue to proclaim the death of Christ in their bodies and , if needs be, with the death of their bodies.
For God’s true religion has been around since Adam and Eve. It has not changed, as some have surmised, from Judaism to Christianity, it has always been Christianity, or trust in the promise of God’s chosen. It has also not morphed in modern times to include everything and anything that resembles religion today. Christianity centers around one thing: Christ.
Just as Jesus is prepared to be born a man, grow in wisdom and stature like us, and prepared to go to the cross, so are we. In sin, we carry suffering with us wherever we go. Suffering because we battle against it. In bearing our sin, Christ suffered, was crucified, and was buried. He was being prepared as an offering to the Lord.
For the Father assigned, or ordained, Jesus for the explicit purpose of dying on the cross. It was divinely necessary that Christ suffer all things and die, in order to purify the world. IN rising again from the dead, Jesus has brought all things under His feet. He has accomplished total and complete dominion, even over sin and death itself.
Because death is not a means of grace. Jesus does not harness the power of death or consult with it in order to accomplish His task. He allows it to power up completely. He allows it to work its worst upon Him. He allows it the first punch, but death is nothing in the face of life. Death has failed.
Not only is there an afterlife, but events IN that afterlife. Death does not stop activity. The lie is that Christ has not accomplished what He set out to do, because of the cross and the tomb. The Truth is that, because of Easter, all other “truths” are a lie.
In rising again from the dead, Christ has shown that death has no dominion over Him; it could not hold Him. This means that all of God’s activity in history, that Jesus says is in the Old Testament was true and everything else was a lie. True religion is not cultural or geographic, but Christo-centric. It belongs to those who are a part of Christ.
The Gospel that was given to Adam, Noah, Moses, David, Isaiah, and the Apostles continues on, because Jesus continues on. Christianity is alive and thriving today, because her Lord is alive and thriving today. The Church stands against the gates of hell, because Christ has passed through them and come out victorious.
There is no such thing as a dying Church, a small Church, a weak Church, or a false Church. The subject preached in the Church is invincible and everlasting and those who are baptized are a part of that, literally.
Jesus has come to bring abundant life and gives this through His Sacraments, for it is through that Gospel that the Church lives on and lives on. Not only is it the life-blood for all who believe, but it is a life-blood that not even death can stop the pumping of it.
Thus, St. Bartholomew, the rest of the Apostles and all the saints can proclaim Jesus on the cross, for the world. This is why the shield of St. Bartholomew is knives, instead of a cross or fish or some other Christian symbol. Because knives, crosses, guns, swords, or lies can not stop the love of Jesus from dying and rising again.
Death has no power. Laugh at it. Make fun of it. Spit at it. Defy it. Dear Christian, death has no power over you anymore. Christ has baptized you into His eternal, godly body and will not let you go. Do not fear death, for the lie of Satan has been made true, in Christ. You will not surely die, you will sleep, for you are like God, being a part of the Body of Christ.
St. Bartholmew shunned those knives. St. Andrew and St. Peter derided their crosses. Death is but a slumber and they are resting with the Lord. The only reason we keep crosses in Church is because our Lord died on it for us. We do not worship that instrument of death, but the Lord who sat on it for our sins, dying our death in order to give us life, which you all now have and feast upon.
For what the Father has assigned to Christ, He now assigns to us: first to suffer then to be glorified, with Him, for all eternity.