church, Trinity College Chapel Homily

Beauty in the World and Precedented Times

a homily presented on a virtual Trinity College service on 9/23

readings were Judith 10.1-23 and Acts 19.1-10

Judith is a person that we don’t get to talk about much in sermons, or even in church at all. A heroine to rival Esther or Deborah, she’s shunted off to the Apocrypha and makes only rare and seemingly random guest appearances. We see her more often in Art museums than in church, and that’s really too bad. Samson or King David get all the best butch moments within the Bible, and we’re living in times right now where we all need stories of courage where goodness triumphs over evil in satisfying ways.

Judith Beheads Holofernes, attributed to Caravaggio

This particular section of Judith doesn’t concentrate on her courage (or her righteously murderous rage) though. It centres in an almost annoying fashion around her beauty. One of the things I get to witness a lot, that also appears in today’s reading from Acts is the beauty of being “baptised in the holy spirit” and what this means.

I serve as a children’s minister and one of the best parts of this means that I get to experience church and God in the way that children do. This means I get to indulge in joy and its sister chaos during worship a lot more often than most adults, and best of all I get a front row seat for every baptism. The kids and I crowd up close to the font, right in the splash zone. Right before the SARS Covid 2 shutdown we baptized a group of adults and older children. 

What was on their faces before the moment of their baptisms was the joyful expectation of knowing they were about to be born again into the family of the church. Then came the words of pledge, and the water, and they were transformed. Some of them wept, and some of them just beamed. 

They were, all of those people, in that moment, the most beautiful humans I had ever seen. It was, as all baptisms are, a moment of God’s grace on Earth– a perfect glimpse into the Kingdom of God. 

Again and again in the reading today–,everyone marvels at Judith’s beauty, and although she wasn’t baptized in the Christian sense, she was shining outwardly with an inner mission from God, and it’s noted in some translations of this passage that because of her virtue God increases her beauty. Even though she was wearing her best clothes and all her finest jewels and was maybe a fine looking woman, it was the power of her mission that made her so striking.

Now, what does that have to do with “such a time as this?” We are living, as the cliche we are all tired of hearing tells us “in unprecedented times.” But, knowing our Bibles like we do, we know this simply isn’t true. These times of pandemic are precedented. Plague has happened before, and will happen again, Famine has ruled the land, and will again, the people of God have always dealt with daunting and devastating times. We have lamented and cried out for mercy to our God. Always. 

But even in these times, there is beauty. There is beauty in every person who decides that their best and most beautiful piece of clothing is a mask. There is beauty in churches still managing to feed the hungry. There is beauty in remembering to be kind to those workers who are still pouring our coffees and ringing up our groceries–and there is greater beauty in those who are those workers in these unimaginably stressful times when so many do not or cannot remember to be kind.  There is beauty in those that still hunger and thirst and fight for justice and righteousness. 

Most of all, there is beauty in clinging to being baptized in the spirit when the world is bathed in everything evil and contrary to it. In clinging to the baptismal promise to bring dignity to all people. All these things are beauty like Judith’s beauty.

There’s a campfire Christian song that I like to teach to kids and youth– it’s in my own sweet spot between sincere and cheesy. It’s called “Have you seen Jesus my Lord?” there’s a verse that goes like this:

Have you ever stood in the family

with the Lord there in your midst

seen the face of Christ on your neighbour

then I say

you’ve seen Jesus my Lord

May we see Christ in our neighbour,

May we remember our baptism in the spirit

and May we be Christ in our world.

Amen.

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