In the Words of Saint Patrick

given on Sunday, March 17, 2013

In the Words of Saint Patrick

         Reading about St. Patrick revealed a few surprises.  First, I had no idea beforehand of the historical significance of the man himself.  I was surprised to learn that he had been kidnapped by the Druids from his home in England, and taken to Ireland to be a slave.  As a slave he was tasked with shepherding the Druids’ sheep herds.

As surprising as it was to learn that, add to it he was only 16 when he was kidnapped.  The six years he was enslaved are reportedly to have been ones during which he survived terrible living conditions and cruelty.  For some reason, the images of an English lad being taken slave just surprised me.  The fact that the Druids were behind the kidnapping and treatment also was a new image for me.

Learning about Saint Patrick quickly shifted my thinking away from the legends and the festivity so often associated with the holiday honoring the man.  I also found that the history of those ancient times seemed so alien to me.  No where in my educational background have I ever honestly studied the Druids, the English and the Irish of that first millennium since Christ’s crucifixion.

The story of Patrick continues to offer interesting twists and turns.  His six years in slavery is credited with his determination to maintain his Christian faith and to return to Ireland as a missionary to develop the church and to tackle the Druids’ pagan beliefs.

Escaping from slavery in Ireland, Patrick returned to England.  He began his studies to become a priest and never gave up his calling to return to Ireland.

According to the Biography website (accessed on March 16, 2013, at http://www.biography.com/people/st-patrick-9434729?page=1),

St. Patrick came to view his enslavement as God’s test of his faith. During his six years of captivity, he became deeply devoted to Christianity through constant prayer. In a vision, he saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. With this, he grew increasingly determined to free the Irish from Druidism by converting them to Christianity.

. . . Upon his arrival in Ireland, St. Patrick was initially met with hostile resistance. But St. Patrick quickly managed to spread Christian teachings far and wide. Through preaching, writing and performing countless baptisms, he convinced Pagan Druids that they were worshiping idols under a belief system that kept them enslaved. By accepting Christianity, he told them, they would be elevated to “the people of the Lord and the sons of God.”

The story of Saint Patrick leads us right back to the United Methodist’s definition of saint—those who exemplify the list of Christ.  St. Patrick was one who did all he could do to convert others to Christianity.  What he did has lead to the legends giving us a festive holiday right in the middle of Lent.

The prayers, though, of St. Patrick clearly speak to us yet today.  The first one we read this morning calls us to praise God, but this one I am about to read is considered the “Breastplate Prayer,” because it is like putting on armor to ward off sin.  This is the connection back to Ephesians 6:14 and would have been timely in terms of reaching the Druids and the people of the 5th century:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Looking back at Saint Patrick’s life and his words, we witness how one person can transform a world.  In our Bishop’s words, Patrick was practicing ‘risk-taking mission’ and was fruitful.  Do we have the strength to follow the example of Saint Patrick?  Do we have the ability to transform even our own piece of the world so others may know Jesus died for their sins?

Dear Patient God,

As we prepare ourselves for remembering your ultimate gift

     of your son, Jesus Christ,

     help us to strengthen our own resolve to serve you.

Let us model ourselves after the saints so long honored

     by the Church, but also those we identify as saints in our own lives.

Teach us to follow the words you share with us through scripture

     and the words of prayers written by so many before us.

Guide us in living a Christian life so others may see your grace and love.

Guide us to value others as you value them.

Guide us in using the skills and the words you have given us

      so others may find the joy in living with You in their own lives.

–Amen.

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