Today, September 21st, is a red-letter day because it is the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Or at least it is on my Church Calendar. On my more secular calendar, the notation is that today is the U.N. International Day of Peace. I have a feeling that both events will go unnoticed by the majority of people today, but that shouldn’t prevent us, as people of faith, to celebrate and draw a connection between them.
The tradition of making important words stand out in red ink started in medieval time, and they became known as rubrics. For those of you who are real Church geeks, you will know that we also call all the instructions in the Book of Common Prayer about how to offer liturgies are also called rubrics, however in most modern copies of the BCP, they are italicized and not written in red (although I have seen some versions that do use red!). The practice of using red to signify something important continued with the printing press, and it is a short-hand way on calendars to highlight special days and holidays. Through the ages, a “red letter day” became jargon for an extraordinarily wonderful day in a person’s life. Ironically, while most Christian calendars use of red to indicate a feast day, it also connotes martyrdom, an extraordinarily bad day in a person’s life.
In the case of St. Matthew, as one of the original 12 apostles, his remembrance is a Feast Day, so it is a red-letter day. There is some debate as to whether or not he died a martyr, but since many of the first apostles were put to death for their faith, it is possible Matthew was as well. Regardless, we should take the time to celebrate a man who, by being open to the Word of God and writing down that message, has influenced billions of people throughout the ages. I know of many people whose first book of the Bible they read was Matthew’s Gospel. It is a great place to start and an opportunity to learn how to make more of our own day’s red-letter.
Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, where Jesus sends his followers out into the world to baptize all believers. This action is not to be done by force or coercion, but through teaching and relationship. At the core, that is what the U.N. International Day of Peace is about, being in relationship with our neighbor rather than at war.
Tragically, too many wars have been fought and lives lost over religious difference and intolerance. Even now we see this happening with ISIS/L and other militant groups. This is not the faith that Jesus taught or Matthew shared. Jesus’s own death at the hands of an intolerant system should indict us all of condemning the other simply because we do not believe what they do. This is the real work we must do, to love those who hate us, even though we have not done anything specifically to them.
It will be a red-letter day indeed if we, as the human family, can ever get to a place of real peace in our world. I don’t think it is impossible, but it is extremely difficult, especially when we have to offer space to the other. I hope and pray with each day we get a bit closer to seeing each other as brothers and sisters and not enemies, as we are all children on God. No matter what color we are.