Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth
September 5 is the Feast of Saints Zechariah and Elizabeth according to the Lutheran sanctoral calendar (a date shared with those of the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican traditions). The Roman Catholic Church celebrates September 23 as the feast for these, the parents of St. John the Baptist.
The account of this holy, elderly couple is initially found in Luke 1:5-25 - a passage that, interestingly, is found in neither the one-year nor the three-year Sunday series. Perhaps their commemoration - especially when it falls on a Sunday - may provide the opportunity to preach on the early verses of Luke 1. Their narrative is again picked up by Luke in 1:57-79, as Elizabeth miraculously gives birth to the last of the prophets, and Zechariah prophesies concerning him. And like the preaching to come of his son John, Zechariah’s canticle also points to our Lord Jesus Christ, the “Most High.”
This latter passage of Luke 1 is found in both the one-year and three-year lectionaries for June 24, the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Zechariah’s song (the Benedictus) is also the more ordinary canticle used in Matins.
Zechariah (sometimes transliterated from the Greek as “Zacharias”), is a priest. And his wife, Elizabeth, was also of the priestly family descended from Aaron. They were “both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child.”
Being elderly and righteous, they were living symbols of faithful Israel under the old covenant. The elderly priest faithfully ministered, offering the sacrifices that foreshadowed the long-awaited Messiah. And their own waiting for the blessings of children - a wait which over time seemed fruitless - mirrored the weariness of the faithful people of Israel. For God’s people were now four centuries into a prophetic silence dating back to the last books of the Old Testament - one of which bears the name of its author, the prophet Zechariah. This Old Testament Zechariah had a vision of a high priest whose name was Joshua (in Greek: Jesus).
Zechariah and Elizabeth, like the elderly saints Simeon and Anna (of whom the evangelist St. Luke writes in chapter 2 of his gospel), are wearied, but faithful servants of the Lord, waiting patiently for the Fullness of Time to come. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s part in salvation history was, of course, that they would become the miraculous parents of St. John the Baptist, the final prophet who would herald in the Christ. St. John would be martyred for his Christian confession, and although he is denied the title of the First Martyr, he is held in high regard in Christian churches, particularly in the Eastern tradition.
Thus Zechariah and Elizabeth are a pivot from B.C. to A.D., from the prophets to the Christ, from Old Israel to New Israel, the Church.
Especially in these days when children within the womb are sinfully seen as inhuman flesh to be sacrificed lovelessly and without mercy, it is fitting that we honor the parents of the one who leaped in the womb upon encountering the fetal Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, who would be sacrificed in love for us sinners. We honor Zechariah and Elizabeth for their faithfulness in their calling as priest and wife, as confessors of the faith of their fathers and believers in the Word of God. We honor them for their unlikely vocation as elderly parents of the prophet called to welcome the Christ into His ministry, a ministry that would bring salvation to the world!
Let us pray: