1 Kings 8:54-62
Today is the first day of Spring, but the church calendar commemorates Thomas Cranmer, and the Daily Office’s Gospel reading is Luke 2:25-35: the recognition of Christ by Simeon, who was told he would not die until he saw the Messiah. So rather than birth and flowers, I am drawn to focus on what joins these two men in my mind: acceptance of fate and death. This is not just to be morbid; two of my grade-school friends lost family members during the past week. One friend lost his father, who at 84—a grandfather, and great-grandfather—had been frail for a while. The other, though, lost her sister, only 50 years old, when she collapsed without warning into a coma from which she never returned, leaving a shell-shocked family, husband, and college-age son. Death of a loved one is always difficult, even when it’s a parent who has suffered a long time and is now “at peace,” but a sudden death of someone in the prime of her life is so much harder to believe, to understand, and finally, to accept.
Cranmer and Simeon offer such very different models of acceptance of death. Simeon has to accept that his own death will not come until his life’s hope is fulfilled: his joy and contentment when he sees Christ inspires the verses that Bach used for one of his best-known cantatas (“Ich habe genug”).
Thomas Cranmer couldn’t be much more different. By many accounts a not-entirely-eager appointee as Archbishop of Canterbury, he accepted his role and effected many of the changes we cherish in the church. Accused and condemned as a heretic to be burned at the stake, he did not leap into his martyrdom; his first impulse—and his second, his third, and his fourth—was to recant and hope to be spared. Only with time, and maybe with the realization that his life wouldn’t be spared, did Cranmer accept and use his death sentence as a means to motivate his church.
This may seem less heroic than, say, defiantly taking his fate without a pause, but this gradual acceptance makes him so much more human, and to me maybe a better—or at least a more attainable—role model. Even the greatest among us are tempted to take the easy, comfortable way out initially, only coming around to do the right thing eventually. I find that reassuring and hopeful.
– Tom Stork