Sermon: Justin Martyr

Do something new in the church for the first time and everyone thinks that it is a novel idea. Do something twice in a church and you have established a firm tradition. Do something three times in a church and you have created an event so sacred, that should you alter it in anyway, you’ll have a church fight on your hands.

Just a few weeks ago we talked about the Book of Common Prayer and how it has been handed down to us. The first was in 1549. Yet, even Thomas Cranmer and the other contributors were not simply making it up as they went along, because many of the traditions of the liturgy had been handed down to them.

In his First Apologia (an Apologia / Apology in this sense being a defense), Justin Martyr wrote:

Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.

And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to ge’noito [so be it].

And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Does that sound like anything we do? Yes. The first Book of Common Prayer was written in 1549, but Justin Martyr wrote those words in the year 150, only a few generations after Jesus established the Eucharist at the Last Supper on the night before he was crucified.

Justin, a Greek, was not one who came to the Christian faith quickly. He first made his way through the great philosophies of the time, eventually making great progress in Platonics. However, one day while walking along a beach he encountered a man he described as “majestic, mild and grave,” who explained to him the philosophy of the Christian faith based on the prophets of the Old Testament and ending with Jesus. After further investigation into the faith, Justin would be baptized, travel to Rome, and turned to defending the Christian faith in such a manner that it would be appealing to others who required a more reasonable and intelligent approach. What remains of his writings are his First and Second Apologias and the Dialogue with Trypho, also an apologia.

As with many others, because of his faith and his refusal to sacrifice to the pagan gods, Justin would be martyred in 165, hence, as a means to honor him, he would be called Justin Martyr. When the magistrate told Justin that he would be “punished mercilessly,” Justin responded, “It was our chief desire to endure tortures for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved. If we do this, we can stand confidently and quietly before the judgment seat of our Lord and Savior when the rest of the world is passing away.”

There are some traditions in our church that may seem silly to some, but many of those traditions have been handed down to us through the centuries and at great cost. And, just as the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus, these traditions of ours are to point to Him. Our traditions are not just something we do, they define who we are.

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